SEC, ESPN Take Field With 24-Hour Channel

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ESPN, bolstering its leadership position in collegiate sports, has extended its national rights deal with the Southeastern Conference and expanded its curriculum to include launching a dedicated TV and digital service.

Starting in August 2014, the SEC Network will present some 1,000 events annually, 450 on television and another 550 on digital platforms. Live action will encompass basketball, baseball and Olympic-style sports, as well as football, where the SEC is the dominant conference, having won the last seven national championships.

ESPN, which already owns the national college service ESPNU and the University of Texas-related Longhorn Network, will seek broad distribution for the SEC Network within the conference’s 11-state footprint, as well as across the country.

AT&T U-verse is on board as the SEC Network’s first national affiliate. U-verse is available in all 11 states in the SEC footprint.

The SEC Network will follow the lead of other dedicated conference channels: Big Ten Network, a joint venture with Fox Sports Networks, and Pac-12 Network, owned and operated by the Pac-12 Conference.

But unlike the Big Ten and Pac-12 services, which have gained expanded basic coverage within their respective footprints and sought sports-tier positioning in other markets, ESPN president John Skipper said ESPN is eyeing greater penetration.

“This is not a regional network,” he said. “This is a national network,” he said. “We understand that within the 11-state footprint it’s where the most passionate fan base is, most important fan base, but there are a lot of SEC fans in California, Michigan, Connecticut, Nebraska. We expect to be in all those places widely distributed with this network.”

ESPN senior vice president of programming Justin Connolly, who will oversee the day-to- day operation of the service, said in an interview, “We’re looking for expanded basic positioning within the conference’s 11-state footprint and digital basic beyond that.”

He would not discuss pricing and said ESPN has not yet initiated in-depth discussions with other distributors.

All told, the SEC Network annually will televise approximately 45 football games, more than 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games, 75 baseball games, plus events from across the SEC’s 21 sports, as well as news and original programming.

Subscribers receiving the live linear network via a multichannel subscription will also have access to it via PCs, tablets, smartphones and select gaming devices, like Xbox. Additional games and coverage will be available through an authenticated digital offering.

Skipper and SEC commissioner Mike Slive, in announcing the network at a May 2 press conference, pointed to widespread the c0nference’s athletic prowess that has yielded 84 national championships in 18 different sports since 2000.

TAKEAWAY

The SEC, arguably college football’s most successful conference, is the latest sports entity to announce plans for a 24-hour network.

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