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SEC & ESPN Announce Launch of New Television Network; Debut Set for August 2014

Last Thursday’s press announcement of one of the worst kept secrets in college football was certainly a show of brute force. With most or all of the SEC coaches & Athletic Directors in attendance, it was certainly a show of unity at it’s best.

Of course, extending a rights agreement for an extra two decades (through 2034 when SEC games will probably be played on lunar colonies) certainly didn’t hurt attendance either.

Not much new information was released in typical Mike Slive passion, but what did come through loud & clear were several key messages:

·      ESPN believes the SEC is a national brand on par with the NFL & the NBA, and they believe the demand and distribution for the SEC brand will not waiver, at least anytime in the near future.
·      ESPN, by way of John Skipper’s chest-bumping assessment does not plan on going quietly into the night against the new FOX Sports 1, NBC/Universal, or any newcomers in the near future. In fact, Skipper said as much during his speech.
·      The SEC considers itself way ahead of the pack, i.e. the PAC-12 & BIG 10, by aligning itself with the “Worldwide Leader” and not just a go-it-alone approach to the market.
·      This network has the ability to propel the SEC even further ahead in recruiting and National Championships—even more than the 149 National Championships the SEC has won since 1990.

What will this do to your sponsorship costs with the SEC?

One word… “Higher.” Yup, you read it here first, sponsor fees could, compared to what most SEC category sponsors are paying right now, rise to five to ten times what they are today. I expect some long-time sponsors, those with a more regional appeal, will go away, take a lower position, or try and sponsor other types of programming, which due to ESPN’s vast treasure chest of assets, will probably not be hard to accommodate.

Wither Finebaum?

As Michael Smith of the Sports Business Journal and others so eloquently pointed out, the elephant in the room, or not the elephant in the room, was the reported absence of uber radio-talk show host Paul Finebaum, who is currently off the air since his Citadel/ Cumulus contract ended weeks ago.

Some sources reported that Finebaum was actually at the announcement, but chose to take a lower profile due to the sensitive nature of where he may or may not wind up. But make no mistake, as the Dean of SEC Pundits, Finebaum was in the room, whether he was physically there or not.

Can the ACC be far behind with their own network now?

Given up for dead only months ago, ACC Commissioner John Swofford has pulled a near Houdini-type performance recently by not only locking down the member schools’ media rights long-term, but by putting the ACC in play for their own ESPN-backed network expected to launch in 2016 or at latest, 2017. It will be interesting to see how the SEC & ACC networks will play well together, especially since they share several states and the SEC network will be housed in the ACC’s backyard of Charlotte.

The plot thickens…
Vince Thompson
President / CEO