SEC, ESPN announce 20-year multichannel network partnership

SEC, ESPN announce 20-year multichannel network partnership

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he long-anticipated public announcement of the SEC TV network — made an even longer when a press conference scheduled for April 16 was postponed following the Boston Marathon bombings — finally happened Thursday, and it should signify another watershed moment for the nation’s preeminent football conference.

ESPN's John Skipper (left) and Mike Slive announced the 20-year partnership that will allow ESPN to bundle all of the SEC's media offerings for potential advertisers.

ESPN’s John Skipper (left) and Mike Slive announced the 20-year partnership that will allow ESPN to bundle all of the SEC’s media offerings for potential advertisers.

Thirty-two league coaches, including all 14 head football coaches, were on-hand as the SEC and ESPN announced a 20-year partnership to create and operate a multiplatform network, which will launch in August 2014. The deal, which runs through 2034, is not just the longest in sports, it’s the longest in all of television.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Slive would not discuss ownership or financial specifics other than to say league officials “believe this network will be very successful in terms of distribution and in terms of significant revenue.”

Revenue distribution from the SEC Network is expected to at least on par with its Big Ten counterpart. Over the past two years, each member of the Big Ten outside of Nebraska received $7.2 million and $7.9 million from the conference’s network. (As a “new” member, Nebraska is not yet entitled to a full revenue share.) That number is expected to at least double to the neighborhood of $15 million annually per member by 2027.

The network, which will be run out of ESPN’s Charlotte operation, will broadcast a total of 45 live football games per year (three football games per week), as well as spring football games, signing day and pro days coverage.

Live football broadcasts will be key to securing distribution, something that has proven to be difficult for the Big Ten and Pac-12 networks. The Big Ten Network reportedly had particularly tough negotiations with Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and the Pac-12 Networks still doesn’t have a deal in place with DirecTV.

“We have 16 months to have those conversations,” said ESPN’s Justin Connolly, who will oversee the network’s day-to-day operations. “We feel good about the opportunities that exist on that horizon.”

The SEC announced that it has lined up AT&T U-verse as its initial carriage partner, and both league and ESPN officials were optimistic about distribution.

“We believe this conference has national appeal,” ESPN president John Skipper said. “This is not a regional network, this is a national network.”

Additional SEC television network notes:

  • Only two of the network’s 45 games will be broadcast on Thursday nights, and the league has no plans for new weeknight games.
  • CBS will allow one of the three Saturday games to go head-to-head with its SEC game of the week in the 3:30pm ET time slot. CBS will continue to have the first pick on games each week.
  • The SEC game of the week that airs on CBS can be re-aired on the SEC Network.
  • The network will also carry 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games, 75 baseball games and various events from other sports annually.
  • The network will televise the SEC Championships for all sports other than football.
  • The network will also offer hundreds of additional live events from various sports exclusively on the digital platform.

Photo credit: John Amis / AP

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