By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor
The Southeastern Conference and ESPN jointly announced on Thursday the creation of the multi-platform SEC Network, which is set to launch on Aug. 6, 2014 as part of a 20-year media rights extension between the conference and World Wide Leader in Sports that will take relationship through 2034.
Termed the “longest agreement in all of sports” by ESPN president John Skipper, the deal not only locks up the SEC with ESPN as its primary rights holder but also ensures that 1,000 league games will be aired each year including 450 live on television. The other 550 contests will be distributed digitally across a variety of platforms.
“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.”
College football, the only sport with all 14 schools’ coaches in attendance on Thursday, will obviously be featured prominently on the new channel. The SEC Network will televise 45 league football games each year, including three every Saturday of the 13-week season. CBS will continue to have first pick of each week’s SEC football games but will no longer have exclusivity to air an SEC game in the middle of the afternoon.
The new SEC Network, which is formally named the “SEC ESPN Network,” also ensures that fans will no longer have to turn to pay-per-view for watch their football teams play a game or two each season. The network’s college football coverage will not end with regular-season games as spring games, Pro Day and National Signing Day will all see extended coverage.
The SEC Network will also televise more than 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games, 75 baseball games and other events put on by the league’s 21 sports. Championship and event coverage will also be provided along with school-specific content and conference-wide features like the SEC Storied documentaries.
“In short, there will be something for every SEC fan, all the time,” Slive said.
The Florida Gators were represented Thursday with head football coach Will Muschamp, head basketball coach Billy Donovan and head volleyball coach Mary Wise on stage in Atlanta, GA during the announcement. Athletic director Jeremy Foley was also in attendance, and school president Bernie Machen spoke on behalf of the 14 SEC presidents and chancellors via a taped message.
“I want to express, on behalf of the 14 presidents and chancellors of the SEC member institutions, our support and enthusiasm for this new channel. We have worked hard to see it come to fruition and we think it offers tremendous opportunities for our league,” Machen said. “Of course, it is going to give us another chance to show the public the intense competition among our student athletes in all sports, but it will also give us a great opportunity to highlight and to showcase some of the academic activities at our member institutions. In the middle of all that, I think you’re going to see the bond that is being built between all 14 institutions from an academic as well as an athletic perspective. This project is something we’re very excited about and we’re looking forward to its launch.”
Currently only one distributor, AT&T U-Verse, has signed on to carry the network as of press time. Though early distribution was a problem for the Pac-12 and Big Ten networks in their early stages, ESPN senior vice president of programming Justin Connolly, who will oversee the day-to-day operations of the network, does not foresee that being a problem for the SEC Network’s launch.
“Having the fastest-growing distributor on board sixteen months in advance of launch certainly provides us a whole lot of optimism,” Connolly said. “We have sixteen months to have those conversations (with other distributors) in advance of launching the network. We feel good about the opportunities that exist on that horizon.”
Production for the SEC Network will be based in Charlotte, NC with ESPN’s home base of Bristol, CT lending support when needed.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE FLORIDA GATORS?
Florida executive associate athletic director for external affairs Mike Hill sat down for a question-and-answer on the school’s website about how the newly-formed SEC Network will impact the way fans get to watch Gators sports. Below are the specifics he shared in the piece.
Relationship with Sun Sports
– Sun Sports will still feature a number of Florida programs including the official coaching shows for Muschamp, Donovan and head women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler and the “GatorZone Television” magazine show.
– “Breakfast With the Gators,” the weekly program that re-aired Florida football games on Sunday morning, will be canceled with future replays likely available on the SEC Network or online.
How to watch “non-revenue” sports
– Currently, UF’s GatorVision service streams a ton of live content for some of the less-popular sports. Those sports will still be covered but games must now be streamed digitally through ESPN as per the new agreement.
– The Gators will be able to produce content other than what ESPN chooses to feature.