The worst-kept secret in college sports was officially revealed in Atlanta on Thursday. The SEC Network, a joint venture between the SEC and ESPN, will hit the airwaves in August 2014 and will have a plan to carry approximately 45 SEC games in year one, with three games every Saturday.
The SEC Network is the crown jewel of a 20-year agreement between the SEC and ESPN to create and operate a multi-platform network between television and digital platforms. ESPN will have the oversight power in all aspects of the new network, and the network will provide a catalog of sporting events to fill up a large chunk of air time covering the 14 SEC members. As noted above, this includes 45 football games to highlight 1,000 live sporting events across the conference year-round.
“The SEC Network will provide an unparalleled fan experience of top quality SEC content presented across the television network and its accompanying digital platforms,” stated SEC commissioner Mike Slive. “We will increase exposure of SEC athletics programs at all 14 member institutions, as we showcase the incredible student-athletes in our league. The agreement for a network streamlines and completes an overall media rights package that will continue the SEC’s leadership for the foreseeable future.”
The SEC Network has 16 months to ensure as much stability for the future as possible in terms of carriage. Getting cable and satellite partners to hop on board conference networks has been tricky in the past. The Big Ten Network gradually fought big carriers to get their network on TVs within the conference foot print. The Pac 12 Network continues to fight those battles as well.
Fortunately for the SEC Network, perhaps, is the experience ESPN has in dealing with those sorts of negotiations with The Longhorn Network.
While the network may not have caught on as quickly as ESPN may have hoped, The SEC Network will be a completely different beast. Demand for the network will be high throughout the SEC states so carriers may be under more pressure than those in Big Ten or Pac 12 states and Texas have faced before. The SEC Network also has their first carrier lined up, AT&T U-verse.
“We are pleased to be involved with the SEC and ESPN at the very beginning of this great alliance,” said Jeff Weber, President of Content and Advertising Sales, AT&T. “As the fastest growing and most advanced pay TV service, we want to bring our customers the highest value and most compelling product that we possibly can. Access to the SEC Network, across multiple platforms, will only increase the demand for U-verse.”
U-verse is currently reported to be available in about 4.5 million homes, up half a million from this time a year ago. Next up will be the other big cable and satellite options within the southeast, and with 16 months to go there could be some long, drawn-out battles to come. Brace yourselves SEC fans. You may think this will be quick, but the past paints a much different story. It will be interesting to compare and contrast how quickly carriers hop on to carry the SEC Network though.
One network who was probably watching these details closely is CBS. CBS still retains the rights to pick the first SEC game of the week to broadcast to their national audience, but ESPN will get the following picks. This is pretty standard actually, but now ESPN has a single outlet to promote their SEC coverage and become the true home of the SEC. One of the perks of the conference will be the reduction in pay-per-view games in SEC territory. Ideally this will lead to more access to fans wanting to catch their favorite teams in action, but this falls back on the carriers of course.
Here are a couple other quick facts about the SEC Network:
There are no plans to air high school football games, something the Longhorn Network was criticized for previously.
There are no plans to air any live bowl or postseason football games. The SEC Championship will remain on CBS (for now) and the network will air SEC championship game sin other sports.
Outside of current deals with CBS and ESPN, all SEC members have handed over media rights and access to SEC Network.
SEC Network exclusive games will not be available on ESPN3.
SEC Network will have the ability to re-air games originally aired by CBS. That's a shame for CBS, because it could have been something worth having on CBS Sports Network in the fall.
There have been rumors of a potential ACC network, but we'll cross that bridge once it is actually constructed. Also worth noting, the SEC Network offices will reside inside the ESPNU infrastructure, which of course is located in Charlotte, North Carolina. The SEC Network is setting up shop right in the ACC's back yard. It will have more projected support from day one than the Big Ten Network and Pac 12 Network.
The SEC hasn't been playing catch-up to anybody, really. This is a case of the rich getting richer.
Photo provided by ESPN Media.