In a melding of two powerful sports brands, cable-television behemoth ESPN and the football-crazed Southeastern Conference have joined forces to form the SEC Network, debuting Aug. 14. ESPN Radio host Paul Finebaum, a veteran observer of all things SEC, believes audience response will be rabid. That view seems particularly valid given that college football is the unquestioned autumnal king of the South.
“SEC fans are an interesting bunch,” Finebaum observes. “They don’t like being subjected to other leagues [that have TV networks], like the Big Ten or the Pac-12. Now they can say, ‘Nothing else exists but us — the rest of the world can vaporize, for all we care.’ It is as irritating to non-SEC fans as it is pleasing to a son of the South.”
Finebaum understands the parochialism. The Memphis, Tenn., native worked for three decades in Birmingham, Ala., before relocating to Charlotte, N.C., as the SEC Network’s first on-air hire when ESPN announced the formation of the network last year. The network launches with a well-timed countdown to the start of the 2014 football season. Blastoff is Aug. 28, when Texas A&M travels to South Carolina. Brent Musburger, one of several marquee on-air hires, will call the game. But the SEC Network’s most popular personality might be former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow.
Programming for the 24/7 multiplatform channel will be highlighted by 45 SEC football games. The network also will showcase men’s basketball (an estimated 100 games), women’s basketball (60 games) and baseball (75 games), along with select coverage from the league’s 21 sports. In all, more than 1,000 events will be aired across the network’s digital platform.
Following ESPN’s time-tested formula of bracketing programming and analysis around live events, the SEC Network will televise studio shows and live-event days such as spring football games and national signing day for college-football recruits.
Beyond content, the marriage between ESPN and the conference should be a match made in financial heaven. Disney-owned ESPN expects to reap untold hundreds of millions in advertising revenue during the 20-year deal. Increased exposure and lucrative media rights bode well for all 14 SEC schools.