The SEC’s long-term partnership with ESPN, the SEC Network and what it means for Mizzou

SEC Coaches

Move over Big Ten, here comes the SEC Network.

Probably the worst-kept secret in college sports finally became official last week when ESPN and the Southeastern Conference announced a long-term deal and the formation of the SEC Network during a press conference in Atlanta.

The Network will debut August 6, 2014 and will carry 45 live football games – three games a day for 13 straight Saturday’s –100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games and 75 baseball games each year.

“The SEC Network will provide an unparalleled fan experience of top quality SEC content presented across the television network and its accompanying digital platform,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said. “We will increase exposure of SEC athletics programs at all 14 member institutions, as we showcase the incredible student athlete in our league.”

“There will be something for every SEC fan, all the time,” Slive said.

A new 20-year media agreement between ESPN and the SEC that will run through 2034, is the longest known agreement in TV history.

“With the interest and the passion that this part of the country has, I believe this a unique opportunity and nothing quite like this has been done before,” ESPN President John Skipper said. “The level of distribution we’ll have from the beginning, the overall production and the amount of games that we’ll have, the integration of digital platforms, this has taken us to another level and that’s why we’re thrilled to be here.”

A key component is the partnership with ESPN’s television components. That network includes ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and now the SEC Network channel.

“The brand of the SEC, the cache that comes along with that, because it resonates in California and it resonates in Nevada, it has more of a chance for greater exposure,” ESPN’s Justin Connolly, who will oversee the day-to-day operations of the network, said. “I think also with the power of ESPN behind it, knowing that you have those cable carriers and Dish and Direct and the satellite carriers already have a relationship, we know that the connections that ESPN has in all of those markets, well, they’re the best. It gives you a chance, knowing that they have a national network, national frame and you have the number one most recognizable brand in all of college sport in the SEC, that’s what I believe lends it to believe that this is a national network, not something regional. People in California, they believe, will absolutely want to have the SEC Network because they know it’s a brand that they want to be able to catch and want to see what goes on.”

AT&T UVerse (4.5 million viewers), the fastest growing cable company in the country, has signed on as the first major carrier. Comcast (24.4 million), DirecTV (20.1 million), Time Warner (14.5 million) and DISH Network (14 million) are the other big ones ESPN must lock in to make it a success coast-to-coast – a national network and not a regional network.

“I think there will be hurdles to clear throughout the country, not only in the state of Missouri,” Missouri AD MikenAlden admitted. “But with that, I like the fact that you have a 14 to 16 month lead time to do that,” Missouri AD Mike Alden said. “If the projections hold up, which we believe they will and the value of the SEC is what we all know it to be, you put those two together, that’s a significant distribution nationally on average.”

What does this mean for Mizzou?

First and foremost, $$$$ and nationwide appeal for the Missouri brand. But the reach will go far beyond the fans’ television sets.

“You’re going to be able to see this anytime, anywhere on any device. That’s exactly what we want,” Alden said. “We want that recruitable student-athlete or that alum or fan or whatever, to be able to have their television set, but really their IPad or their smart phone or whatever they’ve got, at any time to be able to get Tiger content. That’s huge.”

“(The network is) going to create for all of us in the league, more content than our fanbase, in the state of Missouri or anywhere, has ever been able to see,” Alden said. “Whether it’s softball or men’s basketball or women’s basketball or swimming and diving or whatever it may be, there’s gonna be more content than they’ve ever seen before. Sure more money pours in, but we know that, nationally, as far as the recongnition of the Mizzou brand is as high as it’s ever been before.”

It will also be huge for recruiting.

“From a recruiting standpoint, it’s huge. To be able to say that in gymnastics, we’re going to be on the air more than any other conference in the country, softball, and then those 13, those 14, those 15-year-olds that are checking us out on a baseball game or whatever, they’re at least seeing Mizzou and they’re hearing about it and they’re knowing more about it more so than they’ve ever seen before. It’s a huge recruiting opportunity for us going forward,” Alden said.

Alden said this is why moving to the SEC is significant for the future of Missouri, “This is really a real foundational moment in some ways for that comment that we’ve talked about before with the move to the SEC and how this is going to benefit our institution for years to come. That’s probably about as big an announcement in college sport for a partnership and exposure that’s been made yet, in my opinion.”

 “We enter the strongest conference in America, we just unveil what’s going to become the most recognized collegiate network that’s out there, I think we all know that, “ he continued. “Knowing, though, when you do something like this, and the move to the SEC and starting up the network and knowing it’s going to be great exposure for Mizzou, that’s a long-term play. It’s gonna take time to be able to see the dividends paid from the investment in the stock. It’s gonna take time. While all of us want to be able to invest in the stock market and want to be able to have the results right away, and if we don’t have those results right away then we’re saying, ‘You know, what did we get ourselves into?’ Most people would tell you you’ve got to be able to invest in the stock and watch it mature over the course of time and then you can look at it five or ten years from now, look back and be able to see that growth. That’s the thing that we have to all recognize. We have to recognize that internally. We have to, hopefully, recognize that externally.”

In short, its great exposure for Missouri, from coast-to-coast, but he asked the fans to be patient. This is tricky. Fans want results – wins – now. A move to a new conference resulted in the program’s first losing season in nine year and the fan base – and more importantly the donors – are impatient. With all the take of “stepping up” it is time for head coach Gary Pinkel and the football program to do the same – a “put your money where your mouth is” type deal. Although, in my opinion, Missouri being in the SEC had nothing to do with the 5-7 season last year, but injuries did. James Franklin taking a helmet to the knee on a scramble had nothing to do with being in the SEC. Franklin receiving a concussion in the fourth quarter with the season on the line against a Big East team had nothing to do with being in the SEC. An offensive line that lost half of its starters in fall camp and was continually re-shuffled in season had nothing to do with being in the SEC. But, that is the perception, and perception is reality to some. So, it is what it is.

“The tough thing is that I think all of us, we’re all living in the moment and we all want immediate results. That’s absolutely understandable,” Alden said. “There’s no question, people will say, ‘Now, wait, I did this and you didn’t do this so what the heck?’ That’s where we’ve tried to at least educate that, be communicative on the fact that this is a long-term play…It’s been challenging and it will continue to be. I think our fans have done a great job. But again, I think how we’ve tried to express that is, this is a long-term play. There’s not an immediate action-reaction. For us, that’s been an educational process.”

This probably is not going to be received well from Missouri fans. But, Alden is right.

The good news is, Missouri, thanks to Pinkel, is/was much better prepared to enter the SEC than when it entered the Big 12. Missouri has come along way and became a prominent name in football, nationally, albeit accomplishing nothing more than Big 12 North Division titles.

“We had a goal when Gary and I first started working together to compete for national championships in football,” Alden said. “Whether he, or anyone, believed it or not, we sure thought about it when we were No. 1 in the country and playing Oklahoma for the Big 12 title – playing for a national championship. We lost, but no one ever thought we would be there.”

Will going to bowls on a regular basis in the SEC be enough for Missouri fans, who all of a sudden were expecting more once they entered the SEC despite the fact that Missouri never really accomplished anything when in the Big 12? It should be. But, I don’t think it will be.

That said, I thought Missouri would be, initially, in position to compete for SEC East titles in football. I thought they had enough talent to do so right away until the recruiting lapse would hit – and it will (this is like when Missouri began making the effort to recruit Texas – they got the bottom tier players first, the leftovers, before making some serious strides). Injuries derailed that last year, but the Tigers have the potential to bounce back this year, and I think they will.

This was not the case when the Tigers initially joined the Big 12. Missouri is, in this regard, well ahead of where they were then. But, they still have plenty of catch up to do in facilities. They did this once in the Big 12, and they can do it again, but it will take some time, this is why Alden preached patience.

“I know going into the SEC, we’re much better prepared. Much better prepared than Mizzou was when we formed the Big 12,” Alden said. “And I think historians, people that know that, they would absolutely be able to concur with that.”

Missouri’s athletic revenue at $61.3 million, 52nd nationally. So, middle of the pack. That isn’t going to cut it in the SEC. The extra $1.7 million that will come from the SEC this year, Missouri is 50th – still 11th in the league (ahead of only Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss). The SEC Network will not change this.

So, in a way, Alden and the athletic apartment are again asking the fans to “step-up,” “So you have to make sure that you know that this isn’t supplanting the need for us to keep generating more support for the Tiger Scholarship Fund, more season ticket sales, more corporate sponsors. Because in order for us to gain on South Carolina, on Arkansas, on Tennessee, Kentucky, those schools that are that next tier right there, they’re all gonna get the same amount. We’ve got to sell more tickets, we’ve got to raise more money in our capital gifts, corporate partnerships and on and on. So it’s still an uphill battle.”

“We’re getting more money, but everybody else gets the same amount too.”

Does Alden, or anyone at the University of Missouri regret the move?

“Absolutely not,” Alden declared. “This move to the SEC is absolutely going to propel us to the highest levels in college sport. We’ve got to keep moving that thing forward and we’ve got to keep talking to our fans and appreciating and thanking them for being involved and making that long term play and being there. And knowing that there’s going to continue to be tough Saturdays and there’s going to continue to be some tough NCAA Tournaments and there’s going to continue to be some tough days at the ballpark, but as we keep growing, it’s all out there. We’ve just got to keep it going. We’ve got to keep that vision out there. We’ve got to believe that.”

Amen.

But, what do the fans think?

P.S. Mizzou will win eight games in football this year.

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