ESPN, SEC to Launch TV, Digital Service in 2014

As expected, ESPN and the Southeastern Conference will launch the SEC Network in August 2014.

Coming out of the gate, the SEC Network will present over 1,000 events annually, 450 on television, across football, basketball and Olympic-style sports, the balance on digital platforms.

AT&T U-Verse has signed on as SEC Network’s first affiliate, 16 months ahead of its launch.

With the launch of the network, which was officially announced Thursday afternoon at a press conference in Atlanta, ESPN said it had extended its primary rights deal with the SEC through 2034, according to John Skipper.

ESPN’s existing networks present more than 1,600 hours of SEC action annually.

The SEC Network will televise approximately 45 conference football games, three each over the course of 13 weeks, more than 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games, 75 baseball games, plus events from across the SEC’s 21 sports annually. As part of the parties’ expanded relationship, the SEC Network will be able to offer a football game in what has been CBS’s exclusive Saturday afternoon window. Programming will also include studio shows, original content such as SEC Stories, spring football games, signing day and pro days' coverage.

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.

ESPN senior vice president of programming Justin Connolly, who now will oversee the day-to-day operation of the service, said discussions with other distributors are in “early days.” Although license fees weren't specified, Connolly and Skipper said the expectation is that the SEC Network will look for the widest level of distribution -- like ESPN has -- within the conference’s 11-state footprint, and positioning akin to ESPNU, which is in some 75 million homes, throughout the rest of the nation.

Skipper said that while passions run highest for SEC action within its footprint, the conference has "national appeal," with plenty of fans in  California, Michigan, Connecticut, Nebraska and elsewhere.

Published reports indicate that ESPN own the network. SEC commissioner Mike Slive declined to discuss ownership and financial issues during the press conference, but did say the collaboration marks the first time a conference has formed a network with its primary rights-holder. Slive said he expects the service to be very successful in terms of distribution and yield signficant revenue.

The Big Ten Network is a joint venture oof the the conference and Fox Sports Media Group, while the Pac-12 owns and operates its own network.

The SEC Network will originate from ESPN’s Charlotte, N.C., offices with additional staff working from the company’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters. Staff announcements and additional details will be made in the coming months.

As part of the agreement, ESPN also will now oversee the SEC’s official Corporate Sponsor Program.

“We are pleased to be involved with the SEC and ESPN at the very beginning of this great alliance,” said Jeff Weber, president of content and advertising sales, AT&T, in a statement. “As the fastest growing and most advanced pay TV service, we want to bring our customers the highest value and most compelling product that we possibly can. Access to the SEC Network, across multiple platforms, will only increase the demand for U-verse.”