ESPN has set its asking price for the SEC Network, and it is a heady $1.30 per month per subscriber in the 11-state SEC markets.
If you live outside the conference territory it will cost 25 cents per subscriber per month. Understand this $1.30 price is for the basic cable tier, which means the majority of folks paying for the SEC network will not even realize it exists, much less watch it.
The SEC Network will debut this August.
ESPN already has AT&T U-Verse signed up to carry the SEC Network when it debuts, and the reports are that the third-largest distributor in the U.S. - Dish Network (14 million homes) - will be on board by then. Dish's current deal with ESPN expired last September, but the two parties agreed to an extension while negotiations continued. Sources are indicating that the two sides are close to a deal for the entire ESPN family of channels (including the Longhorn Network).
Speaking of the Longhorn Network, ESPN has been using its programming (and its tough negotiation stance) as a neighborhood test drive before taking the SEC SUV out for a spin.
Distributors who believe that the 40 cents per subscriber price for the LHN is tough to handle will initially choke on this in-market $1.30 per subscriber per month price tag. Fox had to battle for almost two years to get clearance for the Big 10 Network at $1 per month.
Obviously ESPN believes it has the leverage advantage with the SEC's on-the-field success over the past decade. The conference's network partners have been reaping the rewards right along. The SEC on CBS enjoyed its best year ever in 2013 with its most-watched season ever, averaging over 7.4 million viewers a contest.
Compare that with the Big 12, where the single highest rated game of the year - Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State - drew 7.2 million viewers.
It isn't just the popularity of the SEC that is driving the asking price. The addition of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC increased the in-market population of the league by almost 35% -- Texas alone adding over 26 million potential viewers to the 92 million population in the 11-state area.
Here are the Top 50 markets added to the SEC list with the addition of A&M and Missouri - markets that ESPN will have as part of its $1.30 per subscriber negotiations.
5. Dallas-Ft. Worth
21. St. Louis
31. Kansas City
36. San Antonio
To give you an idea of the kind of money we are talking about, should ESPN successfully negotiate the $1.30 in-market price along with the 25 cent out of market price, the SEC Network is expected to generate over $7.8 million a month from the Dish Networks 14.1 million subscribers.
The two leading carriers, Comcast and Time Warner, will obviously be the toughest nuts to crack for ESPN and negotiations are expected to be contentious. The SEC Network will have a wealth of live events to showcase, including 45 football games and over 100 basketball games.
ESPN and the SEC are using these live events to help drive negotiations. Their first football doubleheader will feature Texas A&M vs. South Carolina (both states with large Time Warner footprints), as well as Vanderbilt vs. Temple (home of Comcast).
ESPN is on record as stating that it wants the SEC Network to be available in at least 75 million homes, which would match ESPNU for distribution.