March 19, 2013
Talked about and speculated on for a year or more, the SEC Network is about to take its biggest step yet toward becoming a reality.
Commissioner Mike Slive confirmewd to Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports Thursday that a formal announcement regarding the creation of the SEC Network is expected to be made in mid-April. Slive stated that the conference's focus right now is on the league's and the NCAA's basketball tournaments, after which details regarding the highly-anticipated network will be unveiled.
It's believed that the SEC Network will officially launch in August of 2014 — "after the expiration of current third-tier TV rights contracts" Forde writes – although a more definitive timeline will likely be detailed next month. It's also believed that ESPN — as in the Big Ten/FOX marriage — will be a heavily-invested partner in the venture.
In the most recent update to what's previously been labeled "Project X," the Sports Business Journal reported there were three issues that were close to being resolved, including obtaining local TV rights from current conference members. Those rights are currently held by the likes of IMG College, Learfield Sports and CBS Collegiate Sports Properties.
Last September, the SBJ wrote that "[t]he Pac-12 had to go through similar negotiations with the rights holders when it started its networks. The league eventually agreed to pay $100 million over eight years to get those local TV rights back." The website predicted that the SEC would have to shell out even more to obtain the local rights than did the Pac-12.
Regardless of the amount of money the SEC must fork over on the front end to obtain those rights, the back end will likely be flush with cash.
In May of last year, Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork was quoted as saying that "the SEC Network will be every bit as big as the Big Ten Network" financially, a projection with which most analysts agree. The past two years, each member of the Big Ten outside of Nebraska — as a "new" member, the Cornhuskers are not yet entitled to a full share — received $7.2 million and $7.9 million from the conference's network alone. That number is expected to at least double to the neighborhood of $15 million annually per member by 2027.
Thanks to the increased conference footprint with the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M, being on par with the Big Ten Network might be setting the bar a tad low for the SEC's version. Come next month, though, we may have a better idea exactly how far into the financial stratosphere the SEC Network will climb.