Tuesday ESPN and the Southeastern Conference will officially announce the worst kept secret in college athletics -- they are joining forces to create the SEC Network.
As expected, the money should be spectacular. One study conducted by USA today suggests that as early as the 2014-15 school year each SEC member could get $34 million in overall media revenue.
That would be almost double what the teams are getting now, and of course ESPN also expects to cash a few checks along the way. ESPN has studied the Big 10 Network, and believes it can repeat that channel's success without going through all of the pain and suffering endured by the league. Right now the Big 10 is cutting checks to its members for $7.5 to $8 million a year in revenue from its network. Estimates are that the money could escalate to $10-13 million over the next 15 years.
This venture isn't just about money, its also about exposure and reach, and that was a significant factor in the SEC asking Texas A&M and Missouri to join the fold.
SEC Network - The Longhorn Network on Steroids
When ESPN joined with UT to create the Longhorn Network, they were looking for a template that could work long-range for other entities, such as the SEC or ACC.
Like the LHN, ESPN now controls all third tier TV rights for SEC members. They have shelled out some up-front money, but it will be worth it. ESPN will control every SEC football game except for the 14 games CBS carries each season. The SEC Network will also have 8-10 basketball games from each member, as well baseball, women's basketball and all other nonrevenue sports.
That means live programming - and lots of it.
It also gives ESPN some leverage when they start negotiating distribution throughout the SEC region and nationally. If they are having trouble getting clearance in Florida, rest assured one or two Gator games will pop up on the SEC Network.
Each of the teams in the league will have their own section for coach's shows, "insider" reports and non-athletic events. Like the Big 10, Pac-12 networks, the SEC Network will be offered over basic cable and satellite packages in their area of influence and available nationally elsewhere on sports tiers for an additional fee.
When Texas A&M and Missouri joined the league, the SEC's home footprint jumped from 21 million to 30 million TV households. That's a lot of folks potentially paying perhaps as much as a $1 per month subscription fee, even if they never watch a minute of the network.
ESPN has 14 months to battle over distribution and subscription costs, but the SEC wants to get as wide a distribution in Texas as possible. Financially it is a nice piece of the pie for the SEC, but from a promotional and recruiting standpoint it can be a major plus for just about every sport in the league.
Texas is a vital recruiting area for football, basketball, baseball, and every other Olympic sport played on the collegiate level. Having that many live games broadcast in Texas will be a tremendous plus.
Haven't we heard that before? Oh yes, the Longhorn Network.
It still doesn't have broad distribution throughout the state, but maybe ESPN would be willing to work a deal in the Lone Star State when it is negotiating over the SEC Network. Perhaps they might offer a "bundle" deal with Time Warner and other carriers who have held out on the LHN and offer both networks at a slight discount.
One can only hope.
Once the SEC Network hits the air in 2014, they will join the Big 10 and the Pac 12 as major conferences with their own channel.
The ACC certainly has taken notice and this notion of national exposure was a driving force behind their recent expansion. They are in talks with ESPN over a 24-hour network and the WWL has promised to come back with their opinion of how such a league would work, and if it makes financial sense.
That would leave one major BCS Conference without its own league network.
Can you guess which one it is?
I knew you could.