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May 2, 2013

SEC Network Q&A

This morning's press conference announcing the launch of the SEC Network means that you will some items that you recognize if you already have the Big Ten Network on your cable or satellite line up. However, there's also going to be some unique aspects of the network because the SEC is partnering up ESPN which the worldwide leader in sports programming. This will benefit SEC fans not just via watching sports on television but also accessing it from personal entertainment devices such as phones and tablets. Justin Connolly, an ESPN executive who will be heading up the network, indicated that the goal of the network is to bring the personalized passion of the SEC in a stadium setting to a screen which also means that the network be launched with a national and not just a regional outlook. Based upon today's announcement, here's a few questions that we got answers to and some educated guesses for the ones that we didn't.

Q: What will be the launch date for the SEC Network?

A: August 6, 2014.

Q: Where will be the physical headquarters of the network?

A: Charlotte, North Carolina. That may sound weird because that's in ACC territory but ESPNU is located there and apparently the facilities there can handle the increased demands associated with the network.

Q: The SEC's original agreement was 15 years and began in 2009. Did anything change in that regard?

A: The first announcement during the press conference was that the agreement between ESPN and the SEC had been extended until 2034. This is the longest running agreement between a network and conference in college sports history.

Q. What is the ownership split between ESPN and the SEC (the Big 10 has 49% of its network while Fox has 51%; the Pac 12 owns 100% of its network).

A: SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and ESPN officials refused to divulge that information, perhaps due to the fact that ESPN is now in similar negotiations with the ACC on a potential network for that conference. However, it's going to be about a 50/50 split one way or the other.

Q. Approximately how many homes do they expect to reach inside and outside of the SEC's 11 state footprint?

A: We had an article go up yesterday indicating (per everyone's best measurements) that there were 30 million households within the SEC's footprint. From what ESPN officials said about providing unparalleled content to SEC fans, that means that in all likelihood that ESPN will attempt to negotiate with providers to package the SEC Network along with ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, etc. within the footprint to subscribers. Outside of the conference's footprint, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive indicated that he expected the SEC Network to reach the same penetration that ESPNU has which reaches 75 million households nationally (ESPN reaches 100 million).

Q: What will be subscriber fees inside and outside of the SEC footprint?

A: No one was willing to talk about that and Slive said that the SEC would not set pricing. However, sources throughout the industry note that providers charge about $1.00 to $1.25 per month per household within the footprint of the Big Ten Network. Monthly charges outside the footprint are significantly less (as low as $0.10 per month per household).

Q: How many providers are on board or how long they think that it will take to get the them on board?

A: It was rumored going into today's press conference that one provider was already on board and, sure enough, AT&T U-Verse was announced as the first provider. They have approximately four to five million customers and although they are far from the largest provider in the US, they should help get the negotiation process jump started.

Q: Who is providing the infrastructure?

A: ESPN will provide the infrastructure and will also now run all of the SEC's digital platforms. Mike Slive said that this will allow ESPN and the SEC to move content between platforms because ESPN has been their major broadcast partner.

Q: How many events will be broadcast annually?

A: There will be 1,000 live events broadcast annually between the SEC's broadcast partners (450 events) and the SEC Digital Network (550 events). The SEC Network itself will show 45 football games (three per week), 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, and 75 baseball games. The SEC will also televise the SEC championships in all sports outside of football (those rights still belong to CBS).

Q: Given the increased demand for content that will occur, will the SEC start playing more football games outside of Saturdays?

A: Slive said that the league will remain a "Saturday league" and will stick with two Thursday night broadcasts annually per its existing agreement with ESPN.

Q: Who will decide to broadcast which event, particularly in football?

A: CBS will continue to first selection on football games, then ESPN's family of networks, and finally the SEC Network itself. One of the things that the Pac 12 did was to put premium matchups on its network last season (USC/Oregon and USC/Stanford) rather than over the air or on cable (ESPN or Fox). However, schools, advertisers, and ESPN itself will want the higher profile matchups on ESPN's networks which have wider distribution but keep in mind that they will be paying for the privilege. In contrast, the Pac 12 negotiated to have some higher profile games on its own network but had to concede revenues in order to do so.

Q: Will the SEC go to nine conference football games from its current eight game conference schedule in order to offer more higher quality matchups?

A: Slive said in a newspaper article this week that he was not opposed to doing this and reiterated it at today's press conference. That is his way of saying that some schools in the conference that have non-conference in-state rivalries (Florida/Florida State, Georgia/Georgia Tech) would probably prefer an eight game slate to keep those rivalries. However, the Big Ten has already announced that it will make a move to a nine game conference schedule with a 14 team league when Maryland and Rutgers begin play. Obviously, ESPN is going to want more conference games in order to be able to sell more premium content to providers to get the network in more households. In addition, some schools have a problem with the current 6/1/1 format (one fixed non division opponent and one rotating non division opponent annually). In all likelihood, the SEC will go to a nine game schedule at some point.

Q: Off season programming...will all spring games be available, for example?

A: They did not get into that. However, ESPN showed both A&M's and Alabama's spring games and the Big Ten Network has been rotating each of its school's spring games for the past few weeks since spring practice ended. In all likelihood, you can look for this to occur on the SEC Network as well.

Q: Will each school have its own block of programming?

A: The goal is to provide equal exposure for all SEC institutions but it doesn't look like that there will be specific times set aside for each school.

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