The SEC and ESPN entered into a 20-year agreement on the SEC Network and also extended ESPN’s existing TV-rights deal with the league through 2034.
SEC and ESPN officials refused to discuss the economics of the new network, but SEC member schools, which will share the league’s portion of the profits, expect a significant revenue boost once start-up costs are absorbed. Big Ten schools received a reported $7.2 million each from that league’s network last year.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said he hasn’t seen revenue or profit projections but added, “What everyone is banking on is that we both win, ESPN and the SEC. What the number is, no one knows, but I think it has the potential to be really, really positive.”
ESPN also has high expectations. Justin Connolly, the ESPN executive who will oversee SEC Network’s day-to-day operations, described Thursday’s announcement as taking “the tarp off this Ferrari.”
In addition to football and basketball games, the SEC channel and its digital extensions plan to carry events in all of the league’s men’s and women’s sports. In the first year, Slive said, 450 events will be televised and another 550 shown on digital platforms. Studio shows also are part of the plan, as well as programs produced by individual schools and coverage of signing days, pro days and spring football games.
CBS will continue to get first choice of SEC football games each week for its Saturday-afternoon telecasts, but all others will be on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or the ESPN-run SEC Network. That means the SEC and ESPN will have the ability to put compelling games on the league channel in order to drive demand for it.
Both the Big Ten and Pac-12 networks struggled to line up key distribution deals and were not available to some fans in the leagues’ geographic footprints at launch. Whether the SEC Network is available on a particular system — and on what tier at what price — depends on negotiations between ESPN and the carrier.
ESPN said it has reached a deal with the SEC Network’s first distributor (AT&T U-verse) and is in early negotiations with others, but would not say how much it is seeking in subscriber fees. While the negotiations are with the distributors, consumers ultimately would pay for the channel if it is included in their cable or satellite package. The Big Ten network commands fees of about $1.10 per month inside the league’s footprint and about 10 cents per month outside, according to si.com.
ESPN’s Connolly said the goal is to have SEC Network as widely distributed in the SEC footprint as the flagship ESPN channel and as widely distributed elsewhere as ESPNU. Nationally, ESPN is in 100 million homes and ESPNU in 75 million.
“This is not a regional network. This is a national network,” ESPN president John Skipper said of the SEC channel. “There are a lot of SEC fans in California and Michigan and New York and Connecticut and Virginia and Nebraska, and we expect to be in all those places, widely distributed, with this network.”
Among the changes the network will bring: SEC schools no longer will have the option of showing one football game per season on local pay-per-view, and CBS no longer will have exclusivity in its 3:30 p.m. Saturday football window. SEC Network will air a game at that time, one of at least three games it will show each Saturday during the season.
SEC Network’s production center and main studios will be in Charlotte, N.C., where ESPN has an existing facility. Asked about basing the network in a state without an SEC school, Slive said: “Matter of fact, I think it’s an advantage. I’m delighted to have a presence in North Carolina.”
But if that makes you wonder, he said the network launch won’t change the SEC position on adding schools to the league.
“This does not move the issue of expansion from the far backburner to any burner further front,” Slive said.
It might move the SEC toward a nine-game conference football schedule, however.
Increasing from eight to nine league games per school would enhance the SEC’s television programming, and it also could provide a benefit in getting teams into the four-team national playoff that starts with the 2014 season. Strength of schedule will be one component used in selecting the field.
“I think in light of the playoff … we ought to be discussing how we schedule,” Slive said. “Whether we change it or not is another matter, but this league didn’t get to be where it is without opening the door and looking at everything.”