ATLANTA — The Southeastern Conference and ESPN on Thursday announced a 20-year agreement to operate a SEC network that is scheduled to debut in August 2014.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said the SEC network will produce 1,000 live events each year, including 450 televised on the network and 550 distributed digitally. Slive says the network will carry approximately 45 SEC football games each year “and a depth of content across all sports.”
No financial terms were released for the deal, which continues through 2034.
The announcement came at a news conference attended by Slive, ESPN President John Skipper, 32 SEC coaches, and each of the league’s 14 athletic directors. The emphasis was this is to be a national network.
“We believe this conference has national appeal,” Skipper said. “This is a national network. This is not a regional network. We understand that in the 11-state footprint is where the most passionate fans are, but there are a lot of SEC fans in California and Texas and New York and Connecticut and Virginia and Nebraska.”
The league’s coaches and athletic directors said having the national network will make all sports more attractive.
“In volleyball, we may want to go after players in California or in the Midwest,” University of Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity. “Now they can see the SEC is going to have a broadcast of Georgia-Florida volleyball match on ESPN on Tuesday night at 9 o’clock. That’s the type of stuff you can only dream about. Now we have it unfolding.
“Football, obviously, that’s already well-populated. What it does for your Olympic sports is just immeasurable.”
University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, who already has a national recruiting base, said the network will make all SEC schools more attractive to national recruits.
“Everybody’s recruiting stretches out because they already may want to play against Florida and Kentucky and everybody here, but being in the SEC means if you come with us, you’re not a regional player, you’re national,” Calipari said. “You don’t have to worry you have to stay home because that’s your fan base. Your fan base is national. You don’t have to worry about regional fan bases. You can go out and create what you want to create.”
Still, there was no doubt what sport drove the deal — football.
Calipari acknowledged he felt left out as he sat on the stage and heard only football-related questions. Asked where basketball fit in the SEC picture, Calipari said “I don’t know. How many men’s basketball questions were there today? Did we have any? No.
“In the room it was either they wanted to know about money, percentages or what it did with football. I was ready to stand up ‘Can I ask a basketball question?’ I almost did it, just to do it. Then I said no, I don’t want to embarrass anybody.”
Georgia football coach Mark Richt said the network should be another empowering tool for the SEC, already the national power with seven straight national championships.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Richt said. “It’s not a regional network. It’s a national network. It’s going to appeal to people of all ages, including the people we’re going to be recruiting. My guess is there will be content there that will showcase our players, showcase our facilities and showcase our coaching staff and what we’ve done in recent past and what we want to do in the future. It can only help us.”
Slive also would not discuss details of the ownership arrangement with the SEC and ESPN.
“We would not have done this if we did not believe it would be in the long-term benefit of the league, both in terms of distribution and in terms of revenue,” Slive said.
“We’re both happy,” Slive said.
The Big Ten Conference and Pacific-12 Conference also have established networks, but Slive said the SEC’s partnership with ESPN is different.
“What’s unique and never been done before is partnering with our primary rights holder, which will allow us to move events seamlessly between various platforms,” Slive said.
The SEC signed a 15-year deal with CBS in 2008. CBS will still have the first choice of SEC football games.
ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly said AT&T U-Verse has signed on as the first distributor. He said talks are just beginning with other possible cable partners.
Connolly said the deal also gives ESPN rights to oversee the league’s corporate partner program. In addition, ESPN will manage and run all of the SEC’s digital platforms.