published Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Greeson: SEC Network aiming for big launch

HOOVER, Ala. — Four weeks from today — at 6 p.m. Eastern to be exact — the SEC Network will go live.

It's been a massive undertaking, one that was announced more than a year ago. In football parlance, the practice has been completed, but not all the preparations have been finalized.

Justin Connolly, the ESPN senior vice president of college sports programming and the network's chief poobah in regard to the SEC Network, presented the highlights Wednesday at SEC media days of what figures to be the Cadillac of conference networks.

"Let's show more games and more content across every sport the SEC sanctions. Let's do the best we can in story-telling across the SEC campus," Connolly said of the original ideas about the SEC Network on Press Row on ESPN 105.1 FM on Wednesday. "One of the timeless things about sports is that it's the ultimate reality television."

The SEC Network has aced its presnap reads. It has focused its content on live-action games from all sports. It has loaded its stable with recognizable names. Most importantly, it has embraced the fact that football is the bell cow, the main attraction that draws interest and eyeballs.

It's a lesson learned the hard way. Ask the Big Ten and the Longhorn networks, who rushed to broadcast and have had to reset in several ways.

Not the SEC Network, which Connolly said was attentive to the success and struggles of the other venues.

"We announced this over a year ago, and I think it takes the time and coordination to piece the puzzle together," Connolly said. "There's great content on those networks, and we have had the benefit of looking at it and improving on the things they have done.

"We're going to do over 1,000 live events over the network and the platforms [including the WatchESPN website and app]. It's been a massive undertaking."

That extra time has allowed for more than a little trouble-shooting.

According to SEC officials, overlapping games -- like the weekend of Sept. 6 when Tennessee plays Arkansas State and Alabama plays Florida International and each game kicks at noon -- will be shown simultaneously. The SEC Network will add a temporary channel designated for extra broadcast.

When money is no object, impressive solutions can avail themselves.

And the SEC will be short on very little, chiefly money, and therein lies the final rub.

Four weeks from the launch and six weeks from the season-opening football game -- Texas A&M at South Carolina on the SEC Network -- there are six major providers that have signed on, including Dish Network, AT&T Uverse and Cox Communications. Locally, EPB is fully expecting to be on board.

LSU coach Les Miles expressed his gratitude Wednesday that Cox was in the fold, saying now he was not going to have to switch cable companies.

That leaves Comcast and DIRECTV as the two major providers that are still in discussions with the league and ESPN. If Comcast and DIRECTV come aboard, the estimations are roughly 50 million homes will have the chance to view the SEC Network, and more importantly will be paying the freight at roughly $1 month.

The math is easy -- and impressive -- so the deal is paramount for each side.

"We're in negotiations with them, back and forth with dialog," Connelly said, "and until that contract is signed the only way for a Comcast subscriber to be certain they are going to get the Network is to go to one of those carriers that have it.

"The fans have been consistent on this. I do think these providers are ultimately going to realize [the demand]."

The back and forth can change depending who is holding the microphone, but here's saying that each side figures out a way to find a deal they are happy with before the ball is kicked in Columbia six weeks from today. The providers face the potential of enraging one of the country's most passionate -- and loyal -- fan bases; ESPN and the SEC Network face the potential of leaving millions of dollars a month on the table for a few extra pennies in negotiations.

Regardless how many are on board, the launch is coming and from there, Connolly sees only bigger and better and bolder.

With the question marks about future partnerships and alliances still be addressed, Connolly smiled at the discussion of the talent that ESPN has assembled to host the variety of programming. He said they would have the world's best company flag football team

"I got a text after I said that from a Tennessee fan actually," Connolly said with a smile. "I had several people asking who the Herschel Walker of our team is.

"I almost went with '79 Bama. The thing is, no matter what you say in this league you are going to catch flack from 13 of the 14 schools."

Welcome to the SEC, indeed.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and follow him on Twitter at @jgreesontfp. Listen to Jay and David Paschall on Press Row from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN 105.1 FM and at timesfreepress.com.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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