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How The SEC Network Took Off

Jason Barrett

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Mike Slive knew that if the Southeastern Conference wanted to increase its revenue, a conference television network would be a good idea.

But Slive, who stepped down in May after nearly 13 years as commissioner of the SEC, realized the timing wasn’t right to launch a network in 2009 when the SEC’s deals with ESPN and CBS were up for renewal, according to several athletic directors who were involved in the process. The Big Ten had already launched its network, but the economy was in recession, and rumors of more conference realignment were picking up.

Slive decided to wait.

That decision proved extremely lucrative for  the commissioner and the rest of the SEC. The conference later added Missouri and Texas A&M in 2011, increasing the SEC’s cable television footprint by more than 10 million homes, according to Nielsen data, and giving Slive the ammo he needed to move forward with a network.

The SEC Network, which celebrated its first birthday on Aug. 14, was more successful than anyone could have imagined. After the most successful network launch in cable television history, the SEC Network has a market value of $4.77 billion, according to research firm SNL Kagan. By comparison, the Big Ten Network, which launched in 2007, has a value of $1.59 billion.

How did the SEC Network blow away the competition in its first year? It starts with the fans.

“The SEC’s passion and devotion is clearly showing through here,” said Jeff Nelson, vice president of client strategy at Navigate Research. “People wanted the network and were willing to pay for the network.”

Even the most casual observer knows the South is crazy about college football. Like, run full speed inside Bryant-Denny Stadium to get Nick Saban‘s autograph crazy. It’s what brings people together and gives them an endless supply of things to talk about year-round.

That passion made up the backbone of the SEC Network’s appeal to cable providers. While the Big Ten Network battled with providers for years, the SEC Network was available in 90 million homes when it launched. The reason was simple: The cable providers knew they’d risk losing customers, particularly ones in the SEC’s footprint if it didn’t provide the network.

When AT&T U-Verse considered whether it’d add the SEC Network when it launched, it evaluated the intensity of the average SEC viewer, looking at how often and how long they watched SEC sports. What AT&T learned was that “the subscriber intensity on viewership was off the charts for what we normally see for sports,” according to Ryan Smith, vice president of content for AT&T. U-Verse, which became the first provider to sign on, even hoped other providers didn’t distribute the network immediately so they could add additional customers.

“Some of the other college conferences they do well but far and away the SEC is the most intense and has the strongest viewership of really any of those conferences,” Smith said.

Knowing it had an army of passionate viewers up its sleeve, the SEC Network negotiated an aggressive subscriber fee of $1.30 or $1.40, depending on the provider, for its 30 million in-market subscribers. That’s significantly higher than either the Big Ten or Pac-12 network rates. When adding a $0.25 out-of-market rate (outside SEC footprint), the network has an average subscriber fee of $0.66 in the 66 million subscriber homes it averaged in its first year, according to SNL Kagan.

On the conservative end, that’s $576 million in revenue without even factoring in advertising.

“That a network covering 14 schools in 11 states in this country could generate that much traction early on and that much distribution,” Mississippi State athletic directorScott Stricklin said, “it speaks to all the things we know are special about this league.”

Power of ESPN

The SEC took a different approach when it launched its network. While the Pac-12 retained full ownership in its network, which has struggled to get widespread distribution, the SEC partnered with ESPN to launch the SEC Network. The SEC doesn’t have an ownership stake in the network — ESPN has full ownership — but instead negotiated a revenue split with the sports television power.

ESPN and the SEC declined to provide the exact terms of the arrangement, but it is believed to be a little less than a 50/50 split. That could limit the long-term revenue potential for the SEC and its schools — the Big Ten still owns a little less than half of its network — but gave it a tremendous advantage when initially negotiating carriage agreements.

Any resistance the network might have faced, ESPN could muscle its way through. ESPN was able to sell the network under its umbrella of other properties, including its main ESPN channel and ESPN2, making it almost impossible for cable providers to say no. It guaranteed that the SEC Network wouldn’t get relegated to a distant channel you can’t find the way CBS Sports Network and others have in recent years.

The Pac-12, without a powerful friend like ESPN, has struggled fighting its way out of premium packages and into markets. Larry Scott, the Pac-12’s commissioner, has publicly stated he was “disappointed that DirecTV has been willing to negotiate with ESPN for the SEC Network but not Pac-12” and that it showed the provider was more interested in dealing with conglomerates.

“When ESPN gets behind something and puts its resources with a new initiative like the SEC Network, it’s an impressive thing to watch and see,” said Justin Connolly who oversaw the launch as senior vice president of college networks for ESPN. “No doubt we benefited there.”

ESPN added credibility to the operation and helped cable providers feel comfortable that the content would be high quality. The network had already launched the Longhorn Network, focused all on the University of Texas, and learned through trial-and-error what the SEC Network would need to be successful. While the Longhorn Network hasn’t met expectations, its failures taught ESPN a valuable lesson and helped power the unprecedented success of the SEC’s television channel.

Connolly, who is now executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for Disney and ESPN, relied on veterans who had experience launching networks, programming shows and televising games.

To read the rest of this article visit AL Today where it was originally published

Sports TV News

Tom Brady: I’ll Join FOX in 2024

“Even in the future, I wanna be great at what I do. That takes time strategizing, and learning, and evolving.”

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Many have questioned whether Tom Brady will actually join FOX Sports’ top NFL booth after he retires. Today, we have that answer.

During an appearance on The Herd with Colin Cowherd, Brady confirmed he will indeed join Kevin Burkhardt in the network’s top NFL booth, but not until the 2024 season.

“Decompression is important,” Brady said, noting he’ll join the network’s NFL coverage after a year off from the game. “You’re on this kind of really crazy treadmill/hamster wheel, loving the moment, loving the journey, (but) at the same time there’s a daily fight. I have an appreciation to those who are so committed to showing up every day and putting in their max effort to their life and their career.

“I think — for me — I want to be great at what I do. So last week, talking with the people at FOX Sports and the leadership there allowing me to start my FOX opportunity in the fall of 2024 is something that’s great for me.”

Brady added he needs time to absorb a new career before jumping in head first.

“Take some time to really learn, become great at what I want to do, become great at thinking about the opportunity, and make sure I don’t rush into anything. Even in the future, I wanna be great at what I do. That takes time strategizing, and learning, and evolving, and I have so many people to rely on that can support me in that growth, too.”

The seven-time Super Bowl winning quarterback concluded by saying there are other aspects of his life outside of football that “need some catching up and energy”. He went through a high-profile divorce from supermodel Gisele Bündchen, reportedly stemming from his refusal to retire after the 2021 NFL season.

Brady signed a reported 10-year, $375 million contract with FOX Sports to join the network’s top NFL announcing crew, and serve as a brand ambassador in May of last year.

The addition of Brady to the FOX Sports booth creates a potential log jam in the analyst role. Current FOX Sports top NFL analyst Greg Olsen has received high praise from many both inside and outside the industry for his work with Burkhardt. Olsen hasn’t been shy about his wish to remain in the network’s top booth, saying that while the situation “sucks”, he is a “big boy” and “knows what he signed up for”.

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Troy Aikman Believes Tom Brady Has Bright Broadcasting Future

“He has some real opinions. He hasn’t always voiced all of those, of course. Now he will have a platform to where it will be expected.”

Ricky Keeler

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Troy Aikman

Troy Aikman has been in the NFL broadcast booth since 2001 and he knows first-hand what Tom Brady will have to go through as he goes from the playing field to the booth. The game has changed over the last 20 years, particularly the speed at which the game is played.

Aikman was a guest on the Green Light with Chris Long podcast and he was asked about the biggest adjustment he had to make when he entered the FOX booth at the time. The Hall-of-Fame QB mentioned how a lot goes on in the booth and it takes a little bit to adjust.

“There is a lot going on in a broadcast booth that it just takes a little bit of time to understand and have things slow down a little bit. There’s this idea that whether you are a player or a former coach when you go into a broadcast booth, I can’t wait to be able to educate the viewer on X and explain this.

“There’s less time now than there was when I got into the broadcast booth because all these offenses are playing up-tempo. You have to be done talking before the snap of the next play so you just don’t have the kind of time to get into a lot of that.

“What I learned early on is you start down this road of explaining something and then you have to somehow wrap it up to be done talking before Joe jumps back in. You leave something hanging and then a big play happens and you never get back to it…Adjusting to all the action and all the activity going on in the broadcast booth and the timing of everything is probably the biggest challenge.” 

When he is in the booth, Aikman mentioned that he never wants the audience to feel like he has all the answers when he analyzes a game and there are only a few times when he will get very critical.

“I don’t go into a broadcast feeling like I have all the answers to what’s happening on the field and I don’t want to come off as though I do have all the answers because these guys spend an enormous amount of time giving it everything they have and it’s more important for them to win than anyone watching the game. I tend to give the coaches the benefit of the doubt.

“Where I’m critical is just not very smart plays, lack of effort, lack of discipline. Those things are when I tend to then react pretty strongly.”

As for his thoughts on Brady becoming an analyst, Aikman believes Brady will do whatever he can to be successful and he is looking forward to hearing some of the opinions Brady has on the game that now he will be able to say as an analyst.

“I think that for him, he has some real opinions. He hasn’t always voiced all of those, of course. Now he will have a platform to where it will be expected and I think he will deliver. I fully expect him to have a really great broadcasting career.

“My only advice is just be you, be authentic, be honest, speak your mind. He will find his niche. He will do that respectfully and I think he will add a lot to the broadcast.”

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Jay Williams Tells Stephen A. Smith His Criticism Of Kyrie Irving ‘Seems Personal’

“You say I’m being sensitive and I don’t know why, but you’re the one that’s very emotional right now.”

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Kyrie Irving is a lot of things. Boring is rarely one of them. Discussions of Kyrie Irving can get heated, particularly when those discussions involve Jay Williams and Stephen A. Smith of ESPN.

Williams was a guest on First Take Monday morning. He was part of a panel discussing Irving’s trade request, which ultimately ended with him as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. He and Smith butted heads

“First off, I’m not the one yelling,” he said to Smith. “You say I’m being sensitive and I don’t know why, but you’re the one that’s very emotional right now.”

That comment was met with an “Oh my God!” from Smith, who laid back while Williams told him that it seemed like Smith is considerably harder on Irving and more triggered by stories about him than about any other athlete.

Smith answered that he is always triggered. Williams, as a regular viewer of First Take, said that did not feel true. He said that it seemed like Stephen A. Smith has a personal problem with Kyrie Irving.

“You — of all people, with all the interest you have — have the nerve to sit here on national television and tell me I’m getting personal with a player?” Smith responded. “I don’t lose no sleep. I don’t lose any sleep over Kyrie Irving.”

Smith then claimed he’d to have too much to say. Jay Williams said he did too, to which Smith started saying “Just say it, Jay.”

Williams met those demands with “I’m not here for that” and “I am on your show,” as host Molly Qerim tried to bring the temperature down.

When it comes to daytime sports television, there will always be questions about how authentic the arguments really are. Last year, Jay Williams was a guest on The Jason Barrett Podcast. He admitted on that show that Smith’s discussions of Kyrie Irving are something he has seized on to create conflict when they are together.

“The way he went at Kyrie all of last year ‘Well, you know some people don’t like to come to work. Some people don’t like to be here’ and then all the sudden for him to flip and be like ‘I’m choosing Kyrie Irving for my MVP’ I’m like ‘No! No, you can’t do that!’

Whether this was co-workers genuinely butting heads, a disagreement played up for the cameras, or some combination of the two, will likely only be known by Stephen A. Smith and Jay Williams. Plenty of their sports media colleagues took notice though.

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