With all the hype one would come to expect from the Worldwide Leader in Sports and the owner of the last seven crystal footballs, ESPN and the SEC announced the coming of SEC Network on Thursday afternoon in Atlanta before a gathering of 200 media members.
While executives, administrators, coaches and fans are patting themselves on the back, we'll attempt to wade through the confetti and tell you what you need to know about college sports' newest cash cow.
Who was there? ESPN head honcho John Skipper, SEC commissioner Mike Slive and ESPN executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing (who will leave that position to oversee the day-to-day operations of SEC Network) were on hand to present the network with help from 32 of the league's coaches, including all 14 football coaches. ESPNU lead anchor Dari Nowkhah was the emcee.
When will it launch? August 2014.
What will it be named? The formal name is SEC ESPN Network, but it will commonly be called just "SEC Network".
Where will the network be located? Charlotte, North Carolina.
This means the SEC is adding North Carolina and N.C. State, right?!? Not likely. ESPNU is already headquartered in Charlotte, so the SEC Network will naturally piggyback off of that existing infrastructure.
How much money is this thing worth? Slive and ESPN's executives declined to say. Some projections place the network's worth in the billions. With that may be a little optimistic, it's safe to say the SEC will vault from its current fourth-place position into first among annual media dollars distribution to member schools. The Big 12 leads the pack right now at $26 million per school. A figure of $40 million per school by 2016 or so isn't out of the question.
How long is the agreement? The SEC and ESPN will be in business together through at least 2034. It immediately becomes the lengthiest agreement in televesion (the Longhorn Network contract was also for 20 years when it was signed in 2011). ESPN can afford to ink such a long deal because 20 years from now, even if we're having our favorite shows streamed directly into our brains while we're sleeping, audiences will still need to watch sports live.
What makes SEC Network different from other conference networks? SEC and ESPN executives referred to the network as something that's "never been done before" on multiple occasions. That's true for both entities. The SEC has obviously never had a network of its own before, while Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Networks are owned and operated outside of the ESPN landscape.
How are they going to split the money? Slive declined to elaborate how ESPN and the SEC plan to split all the projected cash the network is projected to bring in, stating only that "we're both happy". BTN dollars are split 50-50 between the Big Ten and Fox, while the Pac-12 Network and its six regional outfits are wholly owned by the conference. If this deal is structured anything like ESPN's contract with Texas for the Longhorn Network, the SEC will get a set figure, with lots and lots of zeros and commas, while ESPN assumes the remaining profits or losses.
How can I see SEC Network? AT&T Uverse has already signed on to carry the network.
But I don't have AT&T Uverse. There's still 16 months to go and a lot of carriage agreements aren't finalized until the 11th hour, so expect this to be a lengthy storyline. In preparation for its boxing matches with cable providers, the SEC is inviting fans to create a groundswell of demand through GetSECNetwork.com.
Getting all of the major players in the cable/satellite business aboard has proven to be a difficult hurdle to clear for SEC Network's predecessors - Big Ten Network had a lenghty battle with Time Warner Cable, Pac-12 Networks still haven't reached an agreement with DirecTV and Longhorn Network is still in the dark on every major carrier except Verizon Fios and AT&T Uverse.
Will it be available outside the South? Of course. Skipper stated multiple times that ESPN fully plans on SEC Network being a national channel. If SEC Network anything like its predecessors, it will be offered on the common cable tier (next to ESPN, NFL Network, etc. on the dial) in the SEC's 11 home states and on a sports package (in the 600's or so on your channel guide) outside the South.
What will be on SEC Network? The network will show upwards 450 live events per year.
What does that mean for football? Three games per week for each of the 13 regular-season weeks. There will be a game in each window (12 p.m. ET, 3:30 p.m. ET and prime time). Until now, the 3:30 p.m. ET window had been exclusive to CBS (meaning no other SEC games could be shown in that time slot on other networks) but that will end after this season. CBS will still have the first pick of games each week. The rest of the SEC schedule will be divvied up between ESPN's properties - ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and SEC Network. How exactly those games will be slotted remains to be seen and will likely change week to week, but expect some premiere matchups currently reserved for ESPN's prime time slot (LSU - South Carolina, Alabama - Georgia and the like) to be shipped to SEC Network to serve as leverage in cable negotiations.
Does this mean we'll see more midweek SEC games? "We're a Saturday league," said Slive.
Does this means the pay-per-view games are going away? Yes.
What if there's more than one game on at once? ESPN will pop out overflow channels when SEC Network games are on simultaneously. In fact, there are teams of trained professionals hard at work to ensure subscribers can access SEC Network content through every avenue imaginable.
Will there be high school games? No.
Is ESPN going to force the SEC to play a nine-game league schedule? Slive said nothing has been decided on that front, but expects conversations to continue. If the SEC does go to nine games, it could be more in preparation for the College Football Playoff than SEC Network-driven, however.
What about coaches' press conferences, all-access shows, stuff like that? Specifics like that are still a long way from being finalized (there are still 16 months until the launch, after all) but you can bet programming like that will be in the weekday lineup throughout the year.
Is there a logo? There are two, in fact.