When Georgia implemented a multimillion dollar upgrade to its television and digital operations this past year, school athletic officials thought they were just keeping up with the times. It turns out, they were getting a jump on what is about to become a necessary addition for many schools.
The new SEC Network is expected to bring in millions for the league, but there is much to be done between now and August 2014. While ESPN works to secure distribution rights for the network, many of the 14 member-schools will be spending millions in technological upgrades designed to meet the requirements to help satisfy a 24-hour cable network.
"For us all the in-house videos now, all the things from a production aspect are going to have to be produced on campus," first-year Tennessee football coach Butch Jones said. "We've been looking at adding a TV studio, but now that has to be expedited because of the SEC Network. And we have to have upgrades in our technology."
That's the story for many SEC schools. Over the next couple of months, ESPN will send operations teams out to conduct site visits to all SEC schools to examine everything from the control rooms to the connectivity of venues and where cameras are positioned.
The goal is to make sure every school, in cooperation with ESPN, has the capability to adequately produce live events and digital content to fill the SEC Network, which will feature about 450 events on television. Events include 45 live football games, 100 live men's basketball games, 60 live women's basketball games, 75 live baseball games and more than 250 live Olympic sports (soccer, volleyball, softball and gymnastics included).
"We're trying to get to a place where the schools become, in cooperation with us, an engine to produce content down to live events," said Justin Connolly, ESPN's senior vice president of college networks.
SEC schools will need to be able to provide additional digital programming for the network for streaming of events that are not airing on the television network. While some schools are in the process of getting their equipment up to par, others such as Florida and Georgia have already implemented the necessary changes. Georgia spent more than $2 million on upgrades.
"Last year we spent about $2.5 million upgrading our control room for all our scoreboards and our video operations," Bulldogs athletic director Greg McGarity said. "So we were ahead of the game. We've already made a lot of modifications internally that will fit in nicely. And really, we did a lot of work, and we didn't do it for that purpose. We really created a studio, and we do all of our shows out of there and everything. We've got the capability where we don't have to bring in any trucks to produce games, we just do it out of the one room and everything is fiber optic. We just take it straight from the football stadium, to baseball, softball, soccer. It just goes out there through that."
Florida, with the help of a private donation from longtime booster Bill Heavener, partnered with its journalism school to help ensure it had the necessary upgrades, even before the network's announcement. UF has fiber optic capability for the "vast majority" of its athletic facilities.
"We're good," athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "We just built a brand new video control room, including a bunch of new wiring and cable. I know our situation right now is good. And ESPN is going to do site visits and go to each institution to see what we need to do and how they can help us. They are coming to Gainesville sometime in July. Obviously those folks know what they are doing, and they will make sure the production facilities on each campus are what they need to be because this is going to be a big-time network. And what people see and how they perceive it is going to be very, very important."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]