Today in Atlanta, the Southeastern Conference and ESPN took the lid off of their new joint venture, the SEC Network. Below are our quick takes and rapid responses to what was learned today:
* The SEC brought in 32 head coaches for the event. One by one the coaches (from various sports) were introduced. Impressive, but slow. The message: “Our coaches are a big part of why we’re great.” Gotcha. Next?
* ESPN and the SEC announced that they have extended their overall media rights agreement through 2034. No contract in sports television is longer. The positive is that the SEC is now locked into a partnership with what’s currently the the biggest name in sports for two decades. A positive negative? Markets change. Just as the SEC’s dual contracts with ESPN and CBS signed in 2008 were eventually passed, this pact will set a new bar for other conferences to take aim at as well. You can bet the SEC worked automatic escalators — or “look-ins” — into this deal. Just how strong those escalators are will determine how wise it was to sign such a long-term agreement.
* Mike Slive: “For the first time a conference will launch a network with its primary media rights partner.” As we wrote in mid-April, this deal is about much more than just a television channel. ESPN and the SEC will now be able to bundle inventory for sales purposes which will drive league revenue through the roof. Slive said the fact that the conference is creating a network with its main media rights partner allows the league to move its properties “across platforms seamlessly.” As we told you two weeks ago, the network is big… but the overall partnership is even bigger.
* Content will include 1,000 live events per year split between the channel and the digital network (online). That includes three SEC football games per week (45 total) and more than 100 men’s basketball games per season. The key? Those three football games per week. As we noted — again in mid-April — the fact that ESPN already own 95% of the SEC’s football content gives the league an opportunity to put more “good” games on its channel at start-up. That should create greater demand from viewers and in turn put more pressure on cable and satellite providers to carry the channel. Make no mistake, you will be used for leverage.
* AT&T U-verse was announced as the SEC’s initial carriage partner. Not to sneeze at AT&T U-verse, but the fact that a more well-known provider such as DirecTV, Comcast or Time-Warner isn’t onboard already might give you a pretty good idea of what ESPN and the SEC are charging for carriage. Meaning: A lot. Asked about other distributors, ESPN’s reps pointed out multiple times that AT&T U-verse is the fastest growing distributor in the country. Fine. But you the viewer need to prepare for the carriage battles we’ve warned you about.
* Slive refused to detail any ownership details regarding the network. “The actual details we’re just not going to discuss at this time.” So we’ll have to wait a bit longer to learn if this is a 51/49-type split between the league and the network or if the SEC is simply being paid a healthy per-year sum by ESPN. (We’ve come to believe that the latter is the model that’s been adopted, just as ESPN pays Texas an annual sum for their Longhorn Network partnership.) Slive also said he would not reveal financial projections or distribution projections for the network. ESPN’s reps said that they want complete coverage — like ESPN itself — in the 11-state SEC footprint. They also pointed out that the SEC Network is a “national network.” On a national scale, ESPNU’s distribution was mentioned as a goal for the SEC Network on a national scale. ESPNU gets into about 75 million homes across the country. Cha-ching.
* Only two Thursday night football games will be played over the course of a season and there will be no new weeknight package of games. (Good.) Each Saturday in the fall, then, the SEC Network will carry three games per day — meaning one at noon, one in mid-afternoon, and one in the evening. CBS has agreed to allow a game to go head-to-head with its SEC game of the week. That’s very, very big. That shows you the strength of the SEC, as you can be sure CBS does not want any competition in the 3:30pm ET time slot. But the network agreed to it anyway. CBS will continue to have the first pick on games each week.
* Slive said he anticipates further discussion of a potential nine-game football schedule.
* “The network will be priced efficiently and effectively,” according to ESPN’s reps. Those reps also made sure to point out that they are not asking consumers to pay anything. Of course, they are asking the carriers to pay for the channel and they know full well that those costs will be passed on to the consumers. Semantics.
* As expected, the network will be based in Charlotte at ESPN’s regional hub. It’s launch date was announced as August of 2014.
* UPDATE — Buried in the SEC’s Q&A sheet (linked to below) is this nugget: “The Network will televise the SEC Championships for all sports other than football.” If that’s correct, you’ll need the SEC Network if you want to watch the SEC men’s basketball tournament championship game in March of 2015. That’s a bit surprising.
* UPDATE — Also tucked away in the Q&A sheet is the fact that the SEC game of the week that airs on CBS can be re-aired on the SEC Network.
Some additional info can be found below:
* For information on SEC Network availability, click here.
* For a full press release from ESPN and the SEC, click here.
* For easy answers to questions about the network in a simple Q&A format, click here.
And if you’re wondering what 32 coaches, two players, a conference commissioner, an emcee, and two ESPN reps look like on one stage… here ya go: