SEC announces launch of sports network


South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, left, and Florida football coach Will Muschamp, right, are interviewed by members of the media following a news conference announcing the launching of the Southeastern Conference Network in partnership with ESPN on Thursday in Atlanta. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 6:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 6:55 p.m.

The conference that seems to have it all now has its own television network.

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South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, left, and Florida football coach Will Muschamp, right, are interviewed by members of the media following a news conference announcing the launching of the Southeastern Conference Network in partnership with ESPN on Thursday in Atlanta. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Facts

Facts about the SEC Network

Format: National 24-hour SEC programming, including about 45 football games and 100 men's basketball games a year. All of the 21 sports in the league will get coverage.
Launch date: August 2014.
Length of the deal: The SEC and ESPN signed a 20-year agreement.
Where you can see it: In your home if your cable/satellite provider strikes a deal with ESPN to show it. The network is expected to be in an estimated 30 million homes in the South.

The Southeastern Conference and ESPN made it official in Atlanta on Thursday, announcing that the long-anticipated SEC Network will launch in August 2014. The conference and its primary rights holder have signed a 20-year contract.

“The benefactors of this are the fans,” ESPN president John Skipper said. “The fans are going to have an opportunity to see more games, see them produced better than ever, see them on a more widely distributed platform.

“It's not only about football and basketball. We're going to have an opportunity to do a lot of other sports — gymnastics, track and field, swimming and volleyball, etc.”




The 24-hour network will annually televise approximately 45 SEC football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 75 baseball games and numerous games and matches involving all the league's 21 sports, along with featuring original content.

“The SEC Network will provide an unparalleled fan experience of top quality SEC content presented across the television network and its accompanying digital platforms,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said. “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.”

Skipper said that the network will be a national one, with an emphasis on saturation coverage in the 11-state SEC region. ESPN and the SEC are in the very early stages of negotiating with cable and satellite providers, so viewers will not know where the network is available until a later date.

“We believe this conference has national appeal,” Skipper said. “This is not a regional network. This is a national network. We understand the 11-state SEC footprint is the most important.

“But there are a lot of SEC fans in California and Michigan and New York and Connecticut and Virginia and Nebraska. We expect to be in all those places, widely distributed with this network.”

AT&T U-verse has been secured as the network's first national distributor. ESPN's Justin Connolly, who will oversee the network's day-to-day operations in Charlotte, N.C., said he doesn't anticipate a problem selling the network to providers.

“It's still very early in terms of our discussions with distributors,” Connolly said. “I will say that having the fastest-growing distributor on board 16 months in advance of launch certainly provides us with a whole lot of optimism.

“We have 16 months to have those conversations in advance of launching the network. We feel good about the opportunity that exists on that horizon. We're literally just getting into those conversation and discussions right now.

“We will target the widest distribution possible in the 11-state SEC footprint, carried on a similar level of service as ESPN. Then outside of that 11-state footprint, we will target a level of service that might be compared to where ESPNU is today. That's the approach we're seeking to take.”

Slive said the network will feature three SEC football games every Saturday. The league continues its agreement with CBS, which will still have first pick for the afternoon game.

The SEC Network also will carry a league game in the same time slot.

“The CBS afternoon window is exclusive,” Slive said. “We've come to an agreement with CBS. We will put a challenging game on our network in the early window, afternoon window and the night window.

“We will have a content board to decide which games to put on the network.”

Starting in 2014, SEC football games will be televised by CBS, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network. Slive said all but two of those games will be on Saturday.

“We're a Saturday league,” Slive said. “It's Saturday when our fans want us to play football.

“We have agreed to play only two Thursday night football games annually. That will not change. What we wanted to do is make sure that we had maximum opportunities on Saturday.”

Slive and ESPN would not reveal financial terms of their agreement or the amount of revenue the network could generate for the SEC.

“This network will be very successful in terms of distribution and ultimately the development of potential significant revenue,” Slive said. “At this stage, it's premature to get into that.

“We would not have done this if we didn't believe it was going to be in the long-term benefit of this league in terms of distribution and revenue.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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