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SEC Network to launch in August 2014

For fans who eat, drink and sleep SEC sports, the league plans a network to feed that 24/7 obsession.

The Southeastern Conference, in partnership with ESPN, announced Thursday the launch of an SEC Network to debut in August 2014.

Financial details and the structure of the partnership weren't announced, but the network is expected to generate millions of dollars for the league and ESPN.

It will include a separate digital platform and will air content around the clock. In the first year, more than 1,000 events are expected to be televised.

"The SEC Network will provide an unparalleled fan experience of top-quality SEC content," league commissioner Mike Slive said.

The network will annually televise about 45 SEC football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, 75 baseball games, and events from all of the league's 21 sports. Programming also will include studio shows, original feature content, spring football games, signing day and pro days coverage. Hundreds of additional live events from various sports will be offered exclusively on the digital platform.

CBS will retain its rights to the first selection of an SEC football game each week, then other games will be aired on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network, which will air three league football games weekly. The league will continue to play virtually all of its football games on Saturdays and will eliminate pay-per-view games.

"There will be something for every SEC fan, all the time," Slive said.

Industry analysts said that while the new network will be national, its broadest appeal will principally be in the 11 states that encompass the 14 SEC schools. That includes about 30 million cable subscribers.

"If you're a fan of that conference, you now have a home," said Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports who now runs Pilson Communications. "You have a place to go. You have a channel that's devoted 100 percent to the conference. You can get news, information and scores and sports relating to that conference on a 24/7 basis. Plus you have web-based programming as well."

Pilson said the financial impact on fans won't be felt immediately, or necessarily directly.

The network will be offered to cable distributors for the expanded basic tier. The SEC Network will negotiate with cable companies such as Verizon and Time Warner/Bright House Networks.

The SEC Network already has a deal with AT&T U-Verse as its first distributor, but such negotiations can be difficult. The Big Ten Network had trouble reaching agreements with cable companies in its early years, and it took many years before Time Warner/Bright House reached a deal last fall to carry the NFL Network.

If a cable company agrees to carry the SEC Network, it will decide whether to absorb the cost or increase cable rates.

"Cumulatively, if there are a lot of channels and the cable system is paying a lot more money, they may raise your rates," Pilson said. "But they don't just come along every time there's a new deal and add 10 or 20 or 30 cents to your cable bill. Remember, ESPN is charging the cable company $5.50 a month. Now all of that gets bundled into your bill at some point, but it isn't separate and distinct. … So the object of the SEC channel will be to squeeze into the digi-basic platform on your cable system, which means it just gets included with maybe the top 80 or 100 channels and you don't pay extra for it."

If it were on a pay-sports tier with an extra fee, it would generate less revenue because the bulk of cable subscribers wouldn't sign up for it.

Shawn Porter, a Williston resident and longtime Florida football season-ticket holder, said the only appeal to the network would be more football. Porter said her husband is a Major League Baseball fan, but the family doesn't have much interest in paying for a network to get more of the other SEC sports.

"It wouldn't benefit me at all just to get all the extra stuff. I wouldn't even watch it," Porter said. "Not me personally and probably not my husband. I'd say we would probably decline it if there was an extra fee. It's not something where we would want to get an extra package because our interest is football."

But for Mike Metzler, a Florida season-ticket holder for 34 years, the opportunity to see more Gator sports and other SEC teams might make him consider it, even if there was an additional cost.

"I don't think of it so much for football," said Metzler, a resident of Alachua. "What might be more of an appeal for me would be getting to watch some of the other SEC teams because I just like watching SEC football. Depending on the cost, I would definitely be interested in seeing some of the other SEC football games. But what I'm hoping is that it'll have more basketball. … I love watching softball and baseball, and hardly any of those are on. Now, I'm not going to pay an outrageous amount to see it, but I'd pay something."

The agreement between the SEC and ESPN will extend through 2034.

Slive and SEC executives declined to discuss specifics about the economic impact of the new network on the league's 14 member schools, but it is expected to be significant. Each SEC school received about $20 million from the league last year. Analysts are projecting the league will distribute as much as $35 million per school in two years once the new TV deals are cemented, the Kansas City Star reported.

The Big Ten Network, which began six years ago in partnership with Fox Sports, is now in more than 52 million homes in the United States and Canada, and generated about $284 million in 2012.

"I will say this, we believe, and I think it's already been established, that this network will be very successful in terms of distribution and ultimately the development of potential significant revenue," Slive said. "We wouldn't have done this if we didn't believe that it was going to be in the long-term benefit of the league, both in terms of distribution and in terms of revenue."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

SEC Network to launch in August 2014 05/02/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 10:42pm]
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