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Volume 23 No. 24
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SEC Network’s cost will top that of other college nets

Distributors in SEC country can expect to pay a rate of $1.30 to carry the soon-to-be-launched SEC Network, according to several sources with knowledge of the rate card.

That fee, paid on a monthly per-subscriber basis, is what cable and satellite companies within the SEC’s 11-state footprint would pay to ESPN, the owner of the SEC Network. Outside of SEC territory, the channel’s license fee drops to 25 cents.


SBJ Podcast:
Media reporter John Ourand and college writer Michael Smith detail ESPN's plans for the SEC Network.

Cable operators are certain to blanche at the network’s price tag, which is more expensive than other college conference channels like Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Networks.

But ESPN could have leverage as it negotiates with cable operators, as it appears to be on the cusp of landing a deal with one of the industry’s biggest distributors. Sources said that the country’s third-largest distributor, Dish Network, has agreed to carry the channel from its August launch. The deal has not been completed and is part of a bigger overall deal that it is negotiating with ESPN. Dish’s ESPN deal expired at the end of September, but the two worked out an extension, and they are still negotiating terms. Sources say SEC Network carriage is not a sticking point in these talks.

Dish Network’s national reach and roughly 14 million subscribers would be a significant deal for the new network. AT&T U-verse, with 4.5 million subscribers, previously said that it would carry the channel. It’s unusual for channels to have distribution deals so far in front of a channel’s launch. Typically, distributors and networks wait until just before or after a launch to agree on carriage terms.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable are the biggest cable operators in the SEC’s footprint, and ESPN is using its schedule to apply pressure against them. The SEC Network’s first football game Aug. 28 will be between two schools based in Time Warner Cable markets: South Carolina and Texas A&M. The second game of its Aug. 28 doubleheader will feature Vanderbilt, which is in a Comcast market, against Temple, in Comcast’s hometown of Philadelphia.

ESPN President John Skipper has said in the past that the network expects the SEC channel to reach distribution on par with ESPNU, which is in nearly 75 million homes.

An in-market rate of $1.30 makes the SEC Network significantly more expensive than the Big Ten Network. BTN launched in 2007 and currently charges up to $1 in its 11-state footprint from New Jersey to Nebraska. Sub fees on average from both inside and outside the footprint average 37 cents, according to researcher SNL Kagan.

ESPN executives have expressed confidence that the SEC Network will get carriage, especially in SEC states, because of the conference’s rabid fan base across sports. It was ESPN’s top-rated football conference in 2012. SEC games account for nine of the 10 most-viewed regular-season college baseball games in ESPNU history, and it holds nine of 10 of the most-viewed college softball games on ESPNU.

David Preschlack, executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for Disney and ESPN Networks Group, is leading the talks for ESPN. Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president for programming, is leading the creation of the network.