ESPN Scores 15-Year SEC Deal

In the longest deal in company history, ESPN has signed a 15-year pact with the Southeastern Conference that will dramatically expand the number of games and content the programmer can televise and distribute, while also giving it non-exclusive rights to a host of digital assets.

The deal, reportedly worth some $2.25 billion over its term, kicks off with the 2009-10 season and continues through the 2023-24 school year.

With the agreement announced today during a conference call with reporters, SEC officially ended the notion of establishing its own network and put Raycom, the conference’s long-time syndicator, on the bench.

Under the far-reaching pact, ESPN, ESPN on ABC, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Regional Television,, ESPN Mobile TV, ESPN GamePlan, ESPN Full Court, ESPN International, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Classicwill carry more than 5,500 SEC events, including football, men’s and women’s basketball, Olympic sports and various SEC championships.

The pact follows the 15-year deal the SEC signed with CBS Sports earlier this month.

In that agreement, which also spans the 2009-10 the 2023-24 seasons, CBS continues to be the exclusive national broadcaster of SEC home football games, including the SEC title tilt. CBS Sports will continue to showcase an “SEC game of the week,” primetime contests and doubleheader opportunities. In addition, CBS Sports continues its coverage of SEC regular-season basketball. CBS’s long-team deal also encompasses certain digital, Internet, wireless, video-on-demand, data and enhanced highlight rights across all CBS platforms, including CBS College Sports Network and Moreover, simulcasts of CBS Sports games will be available for distribution by the CBS College Sports Network

The expansive and expensive ESPN-SEC relationship will yield a trio of weekly SEC football games, including Saturday night and two in primetime on Thursdays; a trebling of basketball offerings with three SEC nights -- two new windows -- of men’s regular-season basketball; and present championships in women’s basketball, baseball, softball and gymnastics.

The semifinals and championship (part of Black Rock’s expiring contract) of the SEC men’s basketball tournament will be televised nationally for the first time on ESPN on ABC.

AllSEC championship games, except football on CBS, will air on either ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN on ABC, ESPNU or ESPN Classic.

ESPN Regional Television will become the new over-the-air syndication home for SEC football and basketball. 

SEC commissioner Mike Slive, speaking on the conference call, also noted that over-the-air syndication efforts would no longer be limited to the conference’s nine-state footprint

In addition, ESPN and the SEC will work together to offer multi-sport packages, including football, men’s and women’s basketball, Olympic sports and conference championships of SEC content for regional cable syndication.

College network ESPNU will also take a major step up in class with SEC telecasts, including a weekly primetime football contest, basketball and conference championship action.

On the call, ESPN senior vice president college sports programming Burke Magnus said the programmer hoped the addition of SEC fare would “accelerate” the active carriage conversations ESPNU is having with Comcast. The network, through deals with DirecTV, Dish, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Cox and other cable operators, counts some 22 million subs in total, but has a significant hole in the conference’s nine-state footprint without distribution on the nation’s-largest cable operator.

As for digital rights, ESPN has obtained a bushel, including the ability to stream highlights and games on broadband service ESPN vice president of content John Skipper on the call said the pact also gives the sports giant options for “three/four new platforms” it will look to create over the next “five/six years.”

However, ESPN will have to share many of the digital assets, which are being retained by member schools. The 12 SEC institutions -- Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt -- have long been able to create their own local packages for games not under the aegis of national TV contracts. Some of those rights, particularly for out-of-conference games, have been retained under the new ESPN pact and have also been extended into the new-media space.

Skipper said the non-exclusive nature of the digital rights should present plenty of revenue potential on both sides.

“There is a big basket of digital, multiplatform rights for the SEC and ESPN,” he said, noting he also anticipates plenty of opportunities for the company to work with conference over the life of the conference. To that end, the parties will conduct quarterly “get-togethers” to assess the relationship.