Tomorrow, the Southeastern Conference and ESPN will formally announce their partnership in the new SEC Network, a television channel focused on providing more content to sports-lovin’ Southerners and making a helluva lot more cash for those folks’ favorite schools and teams.
But what will it mean for you? Judging from our email inbox, many of you have questions. Some are basic, some are more in-depth. We’ll give you our take on them here. And for our purposes, we’ll also keep the focus on football.
When will the network launch?
It’s expected that the channel will debut in August of 2014. That gives the league and its partner a full year to create an infrastructure — sales staff, on-air staff, behind-the-scenes crew, on-air sets, etc — and to sell massive sponsorship packages to clients.
Who will be in charge of it?
ESPN will handle the day-in, day-out television duties, most likely from its regional hub in Charlotte. Who knows television better than ESPN, after all? The network’s subscription fee is over $5 and some expect it to go to $7. As of last year, there was only one other national cable network — TNT — that even charged more than a dollar.
ESPN can charge that much due to America’s demand for sports. It’s also due to the fact the network owns the broadcast rights to darn near every sport from yak racing to cross-country ballroom dancing. In addition to broadcasting sport after sport, the network has created a niche of point/counterpoint shows that fill programming slots and bring in ratings each afternoon.
ESPN is an expert when it comes to television and an even bigger expert when it comes to self-marketing. The SEC will hand the reins to ESPN and say, “go get ‘em.”
Who will own it?
ESPN and the SEC together are expected to own it. Just as the Big Ten Network belongs 51% to the Big Ten and 49% to FOX, the SEC Network will likely be split down the middle, too. Most believe the league will control 51% and ESPN the remaining 49%.
When factoring in the amount of money the network will be worth to SEC schools, many are forgetting that ESPN will be taking home an enormous chunk of the profits, too. The folks in Bristol, Connecticut aren’t doing this as charity work.
Will a stronger tie with ESPN keep the network off SEC’s schools’ backs?
Outsiders will say yes, but insiders probably won’t notice a difference. There is already a belief outside the SEC — pick a messageboard — that ESPN has helped drive the SEC to the top of the BCS mountain. Of course, the SEC had already won BCS crowns in 2006, 2007, and 2008 before the league’s contract with ESPN began. Additionally, it doesn’t seem that ESPN has been boosting SEC basketball very much, does it?
Inside the league, the feeling is different. Every fan in the US of A feels that ESPN is out to get his or her favorite school. That’s because the network covers scandals and digs into bad news.
Was ESPN The Magazine’s recent expose on Auburn and an alleged 2010 synthetic marijuana scandal proof of the network’s hatred for the SEC? Was it proof, all you non-SEC fans, that the league is always covering up for its Southern business partners?
Scandals will still be covered by ESPN so the reality is most fans won’t notice any changes in the network’s coverage. If you believe ESPN loves the SEC, that’s what you’ll see. If you believe the network hates the SEC, that’s what you’ll see. Texas A&M fans will be especially conflicted as ESPN is now in bed with both the Aggies and Texas (as partners in its Longhorn Network).
That said, what ESPN chooses to cover and why has always been open to debate. Over the years the network has drawn criticism for refusing to cover some stories (Ben Roethlisber allegations, Brett Favre allegations) while beating the holy hell out of others (Mike Rice video, Penn State scandal). The network also once cancelled its own dramatic series, “Playmakers,” under pressure from the NFL, a massive partner of ESPN.
There’s no denying that a conflict of interest will exist when the news division of ESPN covers stories that won’t please the SEC or its member institutions. But ESPN has so many contracts with so many leagues and schools that the conflict with Mike Slive’s league will be but a drop in the bucket.
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