SEC fans love them some football. So much so that ESPN is counting on that fanaticism to help leverage distributors as negotiations head toward the debut of the SEC Network
If you think the distribution battle over the Longhorn Network has been rancorous, ESPN is really playing hard ball with the SEC Network which debuts in August. ESPN is asking a pricey $1.30 per month per subscriber from carriers in the 11-state SEC footprint.
To put that in perspective, according to SNL Kagan, ESPN's monthly affiliate fee in 2013 was $5.54. The next highest cable channel fee was TNT at $1.33. Currently AT&T U-Verse, DISH and Google Fiber are the only major distributors who have stepped up and and signed up. Comcast and DirecTV (with their 60+ million customers) are still holding out. Now both sides are ratcheting up the pressure.
A ham-handed campaign, called "SEC Fans First," was dead on arrival, but it does give some insight as to just how hard the major distributors are willing to fight rising carrier fees.
The campaign called the $1.30 monthly fee a "Double Tax," on SEC fans. The TV ad showcased a grandmother talking about her grandson who was playing for an SEC school and how ESPN wanted to charge fans millions to see the games. The ads then directed viewers to a website, www.secfansfirst.com, that has already been shut down.
Turns out the campaign was the idea of a communications firm who has Comcast as a client.
For its part, ESPN is using all its resources to turn up the heat on distributors, including some of the tactics they used in negotiations over the Longhorn Network - like moving games to the regional sports network.
The first game on the SEC Network will be Texas A&M at South Carolina on Aug. 28th. ESPN will originate a game from each one of the 14 SEC stadiums over the first month of the 2014 season, giving every SEC fan base an opportunity to bitch and moan at their local carriers should they not have the SEC Network.
Remember last year when ESPN moved the Ole Miss game to the Longhorn Network?
ESPN allowed the game to be viewed over-the-air back in Mississippi since the LHN was not available there. ESPN has already announced that they will not allow that for SEC games. If you live in College Station and your provider doesn't have the SEC Network, the South Carolina game will not be seen.
On Saturday Sept 6th, the SEC Network will have six games - all of them lousy non-conference matchups, but they do highlight teams such as Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, LSU and A&M.
ESPN is counting on each and every SEC fan base screaming long and hard between now and August and that Comcast and DirecTV will take heed.