ESPN and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) held a press conference in Atlanta on Thursday, May 2, to announce a 20-year agreement through 2034 to create and operate the SEC Network. The network, launching in 2014, and its accompanying digital platform will air SEC content 24/7, including more than 1,000 events in its first year.
ESPN President John Skipper; SEC Commissioner Mike Slive; and ESPN Senior Vice President, Programming College Sports Networks Justin Connolly were in attendance for opening comments and a Q&A with media. University of Florida President Dr. Bernie Machen provided taped remarks. Thirty-one SEC coaches were also in attendance (full list in alphabetical order below).
A transcript with portions of the opening comments and Q&A:
I feel in great shape because the first thing I want to announce is we’ve extended our media rights agreement with the Southeastern Conference through 2034. There’s a lot of discussion about new competitors for ESPN, and I’m going to invite all my competitors to take out the actuarial tables and look at the year 2034. It’s a long agreement, I believe the longest agreement in all of sports, and it speaks to the commitment we have to this relationship. It speaks to the confidence that we have that the quality of the athletics in this conference will remain at the high level that it is, and it speaks to the quality of the collaboration that we have with Commissioner Slive and with his staff at the SEC.
I want to thank my friend Mike [Slive] for getting this deal done. I’m not sure what it is yet, but when you announce it, I want to thank you for getting it done. I think Mike has called this Project X. I think you guys are all prepared that we’re going to announce that the X Games are coming to Birmingham, Alabama? No, that’s not what you’re here for? If not, Mike is going to tell you what you’re here for.
For those of you who have followed this project for the last two, two and a half years, today we say good-bye to Project X and hello SEC Network. That’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time.
This is an exciting day for all of us. Today we take yet another step to ensure the long-term strength of the league with the announcement of the SEC Network. For the first time a conference will launch a network in collaboration with its primary overall media rights partner.
The SEC Network will provide an unparalleled fan experience of top quality SEC content presented across the television network and its accompanying digital platforms. We will increase the exposure for all 14 of our institutions, and we will showcase the incredible student-athletes in our league.
Having captured 84 national championships in 18 different sports since the year 2000, including five so far this year won by five different SEC institutions, the SEC Network is a natural outgrowth of our continued success. We at the SEC have an incredibly devoted fan base. Their passion, loyalty and commitment to their institutions and teams is at the heart of our decision to pursue the network.
The SEC Network will have significant scheduling options and a depth of content across all sports, including a thousand live sporting events each year with 450 televised on the network and an additional 550 games distributed digitally. Approximately 45 football games annually with three SEC football games each week for 13 weeks. More than 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games, 75 baseball games, championship and event coverage from a cross-section of our 21 sports, and original content like SEC Storied as well as specific school content produced and a developed just for the network. In short, there will be something for every SEC fan all the time.
As evidenced by the presence of Dr. Gogue, our 14 athletic directors, and all of the coaches behind me here today, the conference’s strength is in our willingness to pull together for the good of the league, notwithstanding the intense competitive fires that burn brightly in each one of them and each one of our institutions. It is this willingness to come together that leads me to have called this era The Golden Age of the SEC. As fable writer Aesop wrote, the level of success is limited only by our imagination. And using our imagination, the SEC has dreamed big. The launch of the SEC Network today marks another historic step for this great conference.
Dr. Bernie Machen
I’m here today representing the 14 presidents and chancellors of the member SEC institutions. I want to express on their behalf our support and our enthusiasm for this new channel. We have worked hard to see it come to fruition and we think it offers tremendous opportunities for our league.
Of course, it’s going to give us another chance to show the public the intense competition among our student-athletes in all sports, but will also give us a great opportunity to highlight and to showcase some of the academic activities at our member institutions. In the middle of all of that, you’re going to see the bond that’s being built between all 14 institutions from an academic as well as an athletic perspective. This project is something we’re very excited about and we’re looking forward to its launch.
Our aim is to bring the passion and the identity of the SEC on screen. I attended the BCS National Championship game in January. During the third quarter, I was in awe when a large crimson-clad section of the stadium broke into the famous SEC chant. That is truly unique. There is not another conference in America where that sense of pride and that sense of belonging translates into such a public display.
That SEC chant and the feeling it evokes, that would match or exceed the fight song or rallying call of any single institution, let alone any conference. And that same emotion and connection lives vibrantly across all 14 institutions of the SEC and among all its fans. Fortunately others understand and appreciate the unique and the prestige of the SEC. I am pleased to announce today that we have our first distributor onboard already. AT&T U-verse, the fastest growing multi-channel provider in the U.S., has signed on to distribute the network when it launches. There’s some great work done by ESPN’s distribution team already, and in partnership with AT&T U-verse, we have already helped confirm the tremendous value we are creating with this network.
We’re also delighted that the SEC has tapped ESPN to oversee their official corporate partner program. In addition, ESPN will manage and run all of the SEC’s digital platforms. Those are just two more examples of how this relationship is unique and how it’s special between the SEC and ESPN.
Over the next 16 months, we are going to ensure that we get the content and the on-screen presentation right. We’re also going to demonstrate the possibilities that this network will create both for our business partners and for fans across the country and also the institutions. The foundation for our success will be the passion of SEC fans. And our mission will be to serve those fans anytime, anywhere, on any device.
Q. The Big Ten Network launched six years ago and it took a little time for it to get off the ground. Can that be used as an example for the SEC Network going forward?
Skipper: This is a unique opportunity. We’re quite confident this is a new and unique opportunity and nothing like this has been done before, that the level of distribution we’ll have at the beginning, the quality of the production, the amount of the games that we’ll have, the sort of integration with digital platforms, is taking this to a whole new level.
The beneficiary of this are the fans. The fans are going to have the opportunity to see more games, they’re going to see them produced better than ever, and on more widely distributed platforms. This is going to be not only about the great football and basketball, men’s and women’s, but we’re going to have an opportunity to do a lot of other sports. The breadth of the quality of this conference in gymnastics, track and field, swimming, volleyball, et cetera, et cetera, is going to be something we look forward to displaying.
Slive: Another thought I shared in my remarks is that what’s unique and never been done before is partnering with our primary rights-holder, which will allow us to move events and contents seamlessly between various platforms.
Q. A couple of years ago you considered going to a network. You kind of backed away from it as a conference. What changed your mind?
Slive: You’re right. When we entered into what we call our base agreement in 2008, we then decided not to pursue a network in lieu of making the arrangements with both CBS and ESPN. As time goes on and we watch the evolution of technology and the other events occurring in intercollegiate athletics, we knew that we were going to find a way to enhance what we had already done. We knew we were in a long-term relationship. So in doing that we created something we call look-ins. Periodically when we felt that things had changed to a certain degree, we could look in and make adjustments. So this network is a product of change and the ability to look in and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to do something we didn’t do before, and we’re going to do it in a way to complement and enhance our base agreement and provide additional programming and more distribution and more quality distribution for all of our fans everywhere.’
Q. Where are you at in negotiations with other cable and satellite providers? How much of a concern is that? Both the Pac-12 and Big Ten didn’t have key providers lined up when they launched.
Connolly: It’s still very early days in terms of our discussions with distributors. I will say that having the fastest-growing distributor onboard 16 months in advance of launch certainly provides us a whole lot of optimism when it comes to having those conversations. We have 16 months to have those conversations in advance of launching the network. We feel good about the opportunities that exist on that horizon, and we’re literally just getting into those conversations and discussions right now.
Q. When the distribution gets settled, what is your anticipation for it? Will it be throughout the SEC states and on a tier package elsewhere throughout the country?
Connolly: Generally speaking, we will target the widest distribution possible in the 11-state SEC footprint. So carried on a similar level of service as ESPN. Then outside of that 11-state footprint, target a level of service that might be comparable to where ESPNU is today. That’s really the approach that we’re seeking to take in the marketplace.
Skipper: I want to emphasize that we believe this conference has national appeal. This is not a regional network. This is a national network. We understand that within the 11-state footprint it’s where the most passionate fan base is, most important fan base, but there’s a lot of SEC fans in California, Michigan, Connecticut, Nebraska. We expect to be in all those places widely distributed with this network.
Q. In terms of scheduling flexibility, will the football window be entirely on Saturday? Are there Thursday options or other options available? Just talk in general about scheduling.
Slive: We’re a Saturday league. It’s historically a Saturday league. That’s when our fans want us to play football. We have agreed to play only two Thursday night football games annually. That won’t change. So what we wanted to do was to make sure that we had maximum opportunities on Saturday.
So what I said to you earlier was we’re going to do approximately 45 football games, three every Saturday, and that’s three windows. Those of you who have followed us know that up to now, the CBS window, the afternoon window, had been exclusive. We’ve come to an agreement with CBS, as well, so that we will put a channel game, a game on our network, both in the early window, the afternoon window, and the night window. And to the extent that we have more games, we’ll have overflow channels and different ways of taking care of that.
Q. What will be the process or the criteria for selecting games particularly for football between football, ESPN flagship, and still wanting to put premium content on the network?
Slive: CBS has the first pick every week. Once that pick is taken, then it will be a decision made. We’ll have a content board. A decision will be made as to what games we put on the network vis-à-vis ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU.
As I said earlier, I think one of the advantages in this relationship is the ability to make determinations about which platform in a seamless way which can work to the benefit of the network.
Q. Where will the network be based out of?
Slive: It will be in Charlotte. ESPN has a modern production facility there that has room to grow. It will be supplemented by support out of Bristol. But the main studios and production facilities will be in Charlotte.
Skipper: I would add our intention here is to touch all the fans and all the institutions. You will see us working, as we do already, with journalism departments at all the schools. You’ll see us on campus at all the games. Doing remote facilities off of all the 11 states in the footprint. Charlotte offered us the opportunity to concentrate quality production and getting this network right, not building a building and thinking about that for the next 16 months.
We want to get this network distributed, get quality content, and that will be our focus. You will not have any problem finding ESPN within the 11 states of the SEC in the next 20 some years till 2034.
SEC coaches in attendance: Arkansas men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson, Georgia swim coach Jack Bauerle, Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema, Arkansas men’s cross-country coach Chris Bucknam, Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, Florida men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan, Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin, Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze, Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith, Auburn swimming coach Brett Hawke, Texas A&M track and cross-country coach Pat Henry, Auburn soccer coach Karen Hoppa, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, Ole Miss men’s basketball coach Andy Kennedy, Georgia women’s basketball coach Andy Landers, Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn, Tennessee men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, LSU football coach Les Miles, Kentucky women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell, Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen, Florida football coach Will Muschamp, Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel, Mississippi State men’s basketball coach Rick Ray, Georgia football coach Mark Richt, Alabama football coach Nick Saban, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, Vanderbilt men’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops, Texas A&M football coach Kevin Sumlin, Auburn women’s basketball coach Terri Williams-Flournoy and Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise.