July 14, 2014

SEC Network seeks to hit the ground running

The SEC Network, which launches in one month, has viewers (26 million homes and rising), content (45 football games, more than 100 men’s and 60 women’s basketball games) and will cash in on the league’s passionate fan base. Also, three of the KC area’s biggest cable and satellite providers without contracts for the network, Time Warner, Comcast and DirecTV, are likely to reach terms before the Aug. 14 launch date.

If you’re uncertain of the launch date of the SEC Network, consult a billboard along an interstate highway almost anywhere in the league’s footprint.

“Take it all in, 8.14.14”

At the start of Southeastern Conference Football Media Days on Monday, the new enterprise was just as conspicuous, from network talent roaming the hallways to a prominent position in SEC commissioner Mike Slive’s stump speech.

“This is a commercial,” Slive said. “I strongly encourage anyone interested in the SEC Network to visit”

But even though three of the Kansas City area’s top cable and satellite providers don’t yet have agreements to carry the channel, you’re probably not going to search long and hard to see the SEC Network.

A source familiar with the negotiations said a deal between the SEC Network and Time Warner Cable is “likely” before the Aug. 14 launch date. Also in SEC territory, Time Warner Cable is a major player in South Carolina and parts of Texas.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company with 22 million subscribers, also is reportedly close to a deal. And DirecTV issued a release last week, calling discussions “productive,” and spoke of the “unique bond between SEC teams and the communities they represent, many of which lack professional teams.”

That’s the power of the most popular conference in college sports. ESPN, which owns the SEC Network, is hoping to charge $1.30 per subscriber per month in the 11 states that have a SEC team and 25 cents outside the conference’s footprint, according to Sports Business Daily.

By straddling the SEC footprint, the Kansas City market poses a unique situation. Cable bills for the same programming could differ depending on your address.

The Big Ten Network, by comparison, has a $1 subscriber fee and the Pac-12 charges 80 cents per subscriber inside their conference footprints.

On board to show the SEC Network are AT&T U-Verse, Dish Network, Cox Communications and Google Fiber.

At this point, some 26 million homes are scheduled to have access, and it’s not inconceivable that number could be pushed to 50 million by the launch date.

Financially, the network could be worth to the SEC as much as what the conference distributed in revenue this year — $21 million per school. Some revenue projections are greater.

Any way it’s sliced, the SEC Network plans to charge from the gate. The network will air 24 hours a day and is set to broadcast 45 football games, more than 100 men’s and 60 women’s basketball games, 75 baseball games, studio shows and documentaries.

Football on the network debuts with a doubleheader Aug. 28 with Texas A&M visiting South Carolina and Vanderbilt going to Temple. A tripleheader will be broadcast two days later, highlighted by Arkansas at Auburn.

Missouri’s debut on the SEC Network is Sept. 13, when Central Florida visits Columbia, and by the end of the season’s first month, the network will have broadcast a game from every SEC football stadium. Brent Musburger has moved out of ABC’s lead play-by-play role and will sit in that chair for the SEC Network.

Among the first productions to debut on Aug. 21, a feature “Bo, Barkley and the Big Hurt,” a film that chronicles Auburn athletes from the early to mid-1980s, Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley and Frank Thomas.

To Stephanie Druley, ESPN vice president of production for college networks, success will be measured in the way the network relates to its audience. She spent the past year traveling around the conference to get a feel for not only the schools but their fans.

“You have to be authentic; you can’t fool people,” Druley said. “We have to know every name, every place. We have to know everything. Because, if I were sitting at home, I’d have an expectation that they speak the same language I do.”

In this case, it’s with a bit of a Southern accent. But as Slive reminded on Monday, the SEC deals from a position of strength, on the playing fields and with many of the nation’s most passionate fan bases.

“As Muhammad Ali said, ‘It’s not bragging if you can back it up,’ ” Slive said.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to Follow him on Twitter: @BlairKerkhoff.

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