May 12, 2013 12:00:55 AM
STARKVILLE -- Leave it to Mike Slive to outdo himself as the leader of a premier Division I athletic conference.
When he negotiated and signed the unprecedented 15-year, $2 billion-plus agreement to televise games with ESPN in 2008, it was believed the Southeastern Conference commissioner had secured his legacy. In 16 months, the SEC will have a television network that will take it into new territory as it tries not to be overtaken financially by another league.
"I think when Commissioner Slive negotiated that deal with ESPN, they thought that would never be topped," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said. "This deal takes everything he has built the SEC into, which is in my opinion is the most dominant conference in all of collegiate sports, to a completely new level."
On May 2, the SEC and ESPN announced a 20-year agreement and rights extension. The deal includes a new television network and digital platform that will show SEC sports 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including more than 1,000 events in the first year. According to the Sports Business Journal, ESPN will own the SEC channel and will share profits 50-50 with the 14 conference schools.
"This is an exciting day for all of us," Slive said at the media conference. "Today, we take yet another step to ensure the long-term strength of the league with the announcement of the SEC Network. For the first time, a conference will launch a network in collaboration with its primary overall media rights partner."
Questions about how quickly cable providers will buy the channel for customers and how the network will improve the exposure for the league's 14 schools remain unanswered.
The digital network, which will launch nationally with AT&T U-verse, will show hundreds of additional events and be based in ESPN's offices in Charlotte, N.C. Before the announcement was made, Slive saw the Big Ten Network and the Pac-12 Network struggle to agreed to satellite and cable deals before the start of that year's football season. The Big Ten Network suffered through growing pains and had difficulty getting distribution to cable systems. The Pac-12 Network, which launched in August, isn't available on DIRECTV.
"I don't like using the word concern, but I think we're all still trying to figure out how the cable part of this is still going to work, but I think a solution will come naturally," Stricklin said.
Even though Starkville isn't one of the nation's top 200 television markets, Stricklin hopes the SEC Network can create a national buzz for his school that will overwhelm the size of its campus.
Some national analysts believe the combination of the SEC's current contract with CBS and the arrival of the SEC Network will produce approximately $400 million in revenue annually, or about $28.5 million per conference school. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Big Ten Conference payouts to member schools should reach another record high in revenue this year due to the 80 million households that receive the network through more than 300 cable, satellite, and telecommunication affiliates in all 50 states and Canada. Figures provided by Illinois show that Big Ten distributions are expected to be $25.7 million per school, including $7.6 million from the Big Ten Network.
"The more the money grows for all of us, the less money becomes an issue for all of us," Stricklin said. "The NCAA can still legislate the number of scholarships, coaches. As long as you have money to operate the travel, recruiting facilities, and all of those things, it puts us more on a level playing field."
While being jointly operated by the league and Fox Sports, The Big Ten Network is available on cable in 19 of the 20 largest U.S. media markets. The Pac-12 Network was available to at least 48 million homes at time of its launch.
"As time goes on and we watch the evolution of technology and the other events occurring in intercollegiate athletics, we knew we were going to find a way to enhance what we had already done," Slive said. "This network is a product of change and the ability to look in and say, 'OK, we're going to do something we didn't do before, and we're going to do it in a way to complement and enhance our base agreement and provide additional programming and more distribution and more quality distribution for all of our fans everywhere.' "
Coaches in every sport in the SEC see this network as a recruiting tool that will benefit their programs. The league intends to broadcast more than 1,000 live events across the television network and its digital extensions in the first full year. This will include approximately 45 football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, and events from all 21 of the SEC-sponsored sports.
The deal allows ESPN to schedule games against the CBS window at 2:30 p.m. CBS formerly had an exclusive window at that time.
The SEC's TV package with CBS won't change. CBS, with its annual 14-game package, will retain the first pick each week, which leaves about 90 football games annually, with half going to the SEC Network and the other half running on ESPN, ESPN2, or ESPNU. It will lower the number of SEC games on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU from about 80 each season to 45.
So while MSU football coach Dan Mullen realizes all of his 13 regular-season football games will be on a regional television platform and as many as half of them will be nationally televised, the school's non-revenue sports, most of which recruit out-of-state athletes, will get a national platform.
"It is a huge advantage for a sport like ours because parents can watch their daughter play volleyball in another time zone," MSU volleyball coach Jenny Hazelwood said. "The exposure of our sport for more television is something all of the players and coaches can't wait for."
Other coaches expressed concern about the SEC Network becoming an outlet for that sport's dominant program, but those fears have decreased because the network will be on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Kentucky doesn't have a game every day of the week, so unless they show replays of their games over live games, I don't see that becoming an issue," MSU men's basketball coach Rick Ray said. "I was at Purdue (as an assistant coach) at the birth of the Big Ten Network, and trust me, this was a way for us then to connect with recruits all over the country that was extremely effective."
Each SEC school's marketing department will have the opportunity to produce and to develop content for platforms. These programs could be similar to the series on ESPN that gave fans inside looks at University of Alabama football and University of Kentucky men's basketball before those seasons started.
Mullen said a "insider look" at his program is something he and his staff would embrace if it was going to be part of programming for the new network.
"I think that's something where we could connect with that recruit and guess what, it doesn't cost us another visit, phone call, or anything under our recruiting budget," Mullen said. "It makes it so much easier to recruit even that Mississippi kid that already sees our games but may have no idea what goes on inside our program."
At MSU, the athletic department recently has built a $12 million basketball facility, a $25 million football facility, and is renovating to Davis Wade Stadium. More projects are on the way, and Stricklin said that construction is a sign MSU is keeping up with the times, but he said those projects have been made easier by the SEC Network.
"It is the most recognizable brand in all of college athletics for a reason," Stricklin said. "This network is going to continue to lead us into continued success in being seen as just that for years to come," Stricklin said.