SEC Network will have a bigger impact than anyone anticipates
Usually in the Southeastern Conference when someone uses the term “The elephant in the room,” which means something significant and obvious but is being ignored or going unaddressed, it’s in reference to the University of Alabama football program or Nick Saban.
A good example was during the 2013 SEC Media Days, when the coach went through the annual media gauntlet and was barely asked about Alabama being the two-time reigning national champion.
But this year there was another “elephant,” one that despite the bright lights was largely overshadowed by the looming playoff and impending widescale reforms that might make the changes of the past 50 years look petty in comparison.
It was ESPN, which in conjunction with the league will launch the SEC Network on Aug. 14.
No matter what your expectations are for the new television entity, which has the full backing of its two extremely powerful partners, they’ll almost certainly be exceeded.
“It means a lot to us because in addition to televising live events, which is the heart of it, (it’s) a chance to tell a story about our institutions,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. “Even equally as important is to get up close and personal with our student athletes. So it’s very meaningful for us.
“We don’t have to necessarily depend on other people to say who we are and what we are.”
Branding implications aside the financial possibilities are nothing short of staggering as the SEC Network is already poised to be of the biggest in the nation and treat its Big 10 and Pac-12 counterparts like a crystal football was at stake.
With nearly every cable and satellite provider having already signed on, exceeding even the SEC’s hopes, we’re looking at a subscription windfall topping $500 million the first year alone. It’ll easily more than double the $20 million in TV revenue each school annually receives.
Overall, the SEC Network will broadcast 1,000-plus events during the 2014-15 academic year, including more than 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games, 75 baseball games and 50 softball games.
With it’s regular Saturday tripleheaders it’ll have more than 45 football games, including 18 the first three weeks of the season. It’ll begin Aug. 28th with Texas A&M at South Carolina, and by Week 4 all 14 teams will have hosted a game on the network.
“Very few entities in American sports have the relevance and significance as SEC football,” said Joe Tessitore, who will host SEC Nation, a two-hour on‑campus pregame show. “The NFL is probably a little bigger and has more eyeballs, but I don’t think it penetrates as deep and is as connected to its fan base as SEC football.
“I always use the phrase, and I think it’s true, if we’re measuring sports properties in America pound for pound … pound for pound SEC football is the number-one sports entity in America.”
Meanwhile, check out some of the other names associated with the SEC Network: Andre Ware, Tim Tebow, Maria Taylor, Matt Stinchcomb, Marcus Spears, Jesse Palmer, Dari Nowkhah, Dave Neal, Brent Musburger, Booger McFarland, Greg McElroy, Kaylee Hartung, Tom Hart, Paul Finebaum and Tony Barnhart.
It’s no wonder ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly likes to joke that he has the best flag football team around (perhaps Musburger, Finebaum and Barnhart could coach). His lineup for this one conference may be better than what any other national network can offer.
“This is ESPN top tier through and through,” said Tessitore, who added about his big-name comrades: “It’s going to be a huge help. Right way you don’t have to play for credibility or relevance.”
Consequently, probably the last word anyone should use with the SEC Network is new because except for some added faces like McElroy, who comes across as a natural broadcaster, it’s really anything but.
Sports fans are already familiar with the analysts and personalities, and for every rookie on the set there’s a veteran in the background like 23-year veteran Stephanie Druley leading the production side.
“It’s definitely something I want get better at,” said McElroy, the former Crimson Tide quarterback who at age 26 recently retired from the National Football League.
“I knew that my calling and my passion was college football. For that reason, I’m here. I get to do all of the same things that I loved about the preparation in regards to the game, but I don’t have to do all the grueling aspects – training, lifting, and all those things. I still get to do all of the fun things.”
Instead, the SEC Network is more of an ESPN offshoot, one that will greatly benefit the league and put it more into the forefront than ever before. From academics to recruiting, and programming ranging from feature documentaries to film-room shows, it’ll become more than the junior version of the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
“It just feels failproof,” said Nowkhah, a 10-year ESPN veteran who was happy to leave the home office of Bristol, Conn., for warmer Charlotte, N.C., home to the SEC Network and ESPNU. “In this business if you say start-up or a network coming from the floor up there’s always a little bit of uncertainty. If you’re going to do a network like this, one you want to have a network like ESPN behind you and two you have to love the fact that it’s in this part of the country.
“It’s a national network, the force of the fans here, I just can’t see any way in the world that this doesn’t succeed and blow up.”
Just watch …