SEC announces agreement with ESPN

sports@macon.comMay 2, 2013 

ATLANTA -- Mike Slive isn’t exactly sure when he changed his mind. For years the commissioner of the SEC was convinced his conference was so successful it could just rely on CBS, ESPN and other television networks.

But a conference so big and successful eventually needs its own network. Or at least that’s what Slive decided, and on Thursday he and the biggest names in the SEC -- Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, John Calipari, Mark Richt and Les Miles -- unveiled the latest move to dominate college sports.

The SEC Network is scheduled to launch in August 2014, a 24/7 home for the conference that will carry some football games, basketball games, other events and round-the-clock SEC-related programming.

“We say good-bye to Project X and hello SEC Network,” Slive proclaimed at a news conference that featured all 14 SEC football head coaches, plus 18 head coaches in other sports.

Slive didn’t reveal any monetary figures, but the network, a partnership with ESPN, is expected to bring in yet more money to the SEC and feed the hunger for content from the fans of its teams.

“I think our fan base is rabid enough to handle a network,” Richt said.

Few doubt that to be true.

The SEC Network doesn’t replace the conference’s current agreements with CBS. It does enhance its agreement with ESPN, which will be the partner and producer for the programming on the SEC Network. SEC Network will be the common reference, although the formal title is SEC ESPN Network. It will annually broadcast more than 1,000 live sporting events in its first year, including 450 on television and 550 digitally.

It means a few slight changes in football television coverage. The SEC Network will carry three games every Saturday -- in the noon, afternoon and night slots. CBS still gets first pick of all games, but it no longer has an exclusive window from 3:30-7 p.m. CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus told that CBS received “reasonable value” from the SEC in order to allow the change.

But it also means the SEC, in conjunction with ESPN, will have more control over which games go where.

“What’ll happen is once CBS selects it’s game we’ll sit down as a network (and decide),” Slive said.

This also means way more non-football SEC games will be on television. The SEC Network will carry more than 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games, 75 baseball games and additional events from the SEC’s 21 sports. The SEC Championships will land on SEC Network in every sport except football.

“In short,” Slive said, “there will be something for every SEC fan all the time.”

Produced original content like “SEC Storied” -- currently an ESPN Films property airing on ESPNU -- and other on-campus shows will fill out the constant cycle.

ESPN will operate all of the SEC’s digital platforms.

“I think it’s gonna appeal to all ages, including the guys we’re gonna be recruiting,” Richt said. “And there will be content that showcases our players, it’ll showcase our facilities, showcase our coaching staff, showcase what we’ve done in the recent past, and what we’re gonna do in the future. It can only help us.”

The SEC has much work to do in the next 15 months. Officials would not comment on financial expectations or a breakdown in ownership between the SEC and ESPN.

The network already has already sealed an agreement with AT&T U-verse, the seventh-largest multi-channel distributor in the country according to 2012 data from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Among distributors to more than 10,000,000 viewers, the big cable companies the SEC will have to negotiate with are Comcast and Time Warner, plus DISH Network and DirecTV.

“It’s still very early days in terms of our discussions with distributors,” said former ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly, who will guide the network’s day-to-day operations. “I will say that having the fastest-growing distributor onboard 16 months in advance of launch certainly provides us a whole lot of optimism when it comes to having those conversations.”

The goal is to extend the SEC’s reach across the country – serving financial, recruiting and fan relation purposes.

“This is not a regional network. This is a national network,” ESPN president John Skipper said. “We understand that within the 11-state footprint it’s where the most passionate fan base is, most important fan base, but there’s a lot of SEC fans in California, Michigan, Connecticut, Nebraska. We expect to be in all those places widely distributed with this network.”

While SEC football is already widely distributed, the benefit trickles down to non-revenue sports.

“For the Olympic sports, this is big,” Calipari said. “Revenue for scholarships, revenue for facilities, to put us on par with anyone in the country, so we treat those student-athletes the way they need to be treated.”

“Our (players’) parents will be able to watch a game at any time; with technology, the iPads, the iPhones, being able to watch your kids,” Auburn women’s basketball coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “The first person I think about is our recruit from Minnesota, our freshman coming in. For her parents who can’t make all the games, (they’ll) be able to watch as many games as they like.”

On the active rosters at Auburn, Alabama and Georgia, 89 percent hail from the 11 states containing an SEC program. Right in line with that figure: Gus Malzahn’s first recruiting class at Auburn summoned 20 of his 23 commits from the SEC footprint.

“A lot of programs already recruit nationally, but anything like this definitely helps,” Malzahn said. “It increases your visibility. It helps you recruit nationally, and makes it a little bit more accessible for coaches and players.”

Still, the rich get richer and the powerful strengthen their reign, starting in a little more than a year.

“We’ve had three nationally televised games for a long, long time in this league where no other conference really had nationally televised games, they had regionally televised games,” Saban said. “We’ve had our own network in CBS, we’ve had several games on ESPN and had a great partnership with them.

“Now we’re going to improve upon that so it’s even going to be better in the future.”

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