SEC set to cash in from conference network

(AP Photo/John Amis, File)
(AP Photo/John Amis, File)

As the college football season draws closer, coaches in the SEC are busy preparing their teams for the long and grueling march through the country’s toughest conference. Meanwhile, on top of mind for SEC administrators undoubtedly is Thursday’s launch of the SEC Network — the culmination of extensive preparation that began prior to the SEC and ESPN announcing a new 20-year rights agreement and partnership in a conference network in May 2013.

When you consider that the Big Ten launched its television network in 2007, it’s surprising that the powers that be in the SEC have sat on the sidelines for this long.

Over the last seven years, they’ve watched the Big Ten Network grow from a meager distribution base largely within its conference footprint, to now reaching approximately 52 million homes in North America. That seven-year growth has resulted in fully vested Big Ten schools (Nebraska still receives a partial payment) reportedly receiving 25.7M/yr last year, $7.6M of which came directly from the Big Ten Network. Now armed with Rutgers, Maryland and the 15 million households in-market they collectively deliver, the conference will most likely land a considerable increase when its current rights agreements expire in 2016.

But the SEC is already set to cash in – estimates have each conference school bringing in $40 million or more in TV revenue by the third year of the network’s existence. Comparatively, the conference distributed $20.7M to each member institution last year without revenues generated from its own conference network.

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The SEC network launches at an opportune time, with a tremendous thirst for televised sports content in the marketplace. That and ESPN’s partnership in the venture — given the company’s power in negotiations with carriers — played a large part in most major distributors picking up the network in such short order. At the time of its launch announcement the network reached 20 million households, but beginning on Thursday it will be carried by eight of the 10 largest cable and satellite providers, collectively reaching over 91 million homes across the country. It’s one of the most widely distributed sports cable networks and available in far more homes than the Big Ten Network or Pac-12 network at launch.

The SEC Network and its accompanying digital offering will air at least 45 exclusive SEC football games this fall, beginning with the August 28th broadcast between Texas A&M and South Carolina, a marquee early season matchup. The network hosts plenty of compelling content to fill the gaps in-between the live game action, with polarizing personalities including Paul Finebaum and, of course, Tim Tebow highlighting its roster of talent.

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