Fifteen months after announcing a 20-year deal with ESPN to form a broadcast home for Southeastern Conference athletics, the SEC Network launches Thursday at 6 p.m. with a three-hour “SEC Now,” the network’s signature news show.
Network officials are ecstatic the signal will be beamed into 91 million households at the start after negotiating a series of agreements with the nation’s cable television providers in a tight time frame.
ESPN senior vice president of college networks Justin Connolly watched the dominoes fall into place as cable giants Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Charter signed on, as did DISH, DirecTV, and AT&T U-verse.
“Our distribution team has done an unbelievable job,” Connolly said. “We’ve exceeded any rational expectations that could be out there. To have more distribution than, arguably, any other new cable television network – forget about sports cable television network – is significant.”
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The SEC Network will be based in an existing ESPN facility in the Charlotte suburbs, where the production team and on-air talent will drive the content engine for the 24-hour programming, which will include more than 1,000 live events in the first year.
Conference officials believe the additional exposure will grow the already-powerful brand. SEC associate commissioner Charlie Hussey said the fall sports of volleyball and women’s soccer will receive five times as much coverage.
“To have, basically, full national distribution pre-launch of the network is incredible. It really is a tribute to the passion of the SEC fans and all of our schools sticking together and buying in,” Hussey said.
“This is going to be a network that covers all of our sports and gives SEC fans everywhere an opportunity to see the conference like they never have before.”
That so many cable companies picked up the network was driven in part by social media campaigns organized by SEC fans to pressure them. With football season near, fans of the various schools wanted to make sure they weren’t left out when the network kicked things off.
Connolly called the fervor of the fans the force behind the start-up. Now the SEC Network must do its part to keep them happy.
“There is a lot of nervous energy at this point to make sure we live up to the expectations and deliver on the promise to fans,” Connolly said. “The SEC fans are the most passionate across the country, and that would probably include pro franchises, as well. If you don’t cover their team the way they want their team to be covered, you hear about it. Without question, we’re going to get a lot of feedback from those fans.”
Connolly said football remains the largest piece of the puzzle in terms of fan interest, and the SEC Network, between the daily “SEC Show” and the game-day “SEC Nation” show, will devote a lot of time and energy to the sport, beginning with the opening game between South Carolina and Texas A&M in two weeks.
“We’re going to roll out all the bells and whistles,” he said.
Dari Nowkhah, one of the anchors on “SEC Now,” can’t wait to show it off.
“It’s awesome to be a part of this, because all you want is for all of the hard work that we all do – not just here (in the studio) but our production staff does – to be seen and to matter,” he said.