Rabalais: Frequently asked questions about the SEC Network

DESTIN, Fla. — The switch flips on for the SEC Network on Aug. 14 — that’s 11 weeks from Thursday — a channel that will focus on the Southeastern Conference 24/7/365.

With something this new, this vast (there are 8,760 hours in a year, and the SEC Network will be on for every one), there are tons of questions even this close to launch.

We sat down at this week’s SEC Spring Meeting with Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president for college networks (ESPN is producing the SEC channel) to try to answer some of them. Here’s what we learned:

How long is the deal between the SEC and ESPN?

Twenty years, through 2034.

How much will the network cost me to get?

According to Sports Business Journal, carriers in the 11-state SEC footprint are expected to pay $1.30 per month per subscription. In non-SEC states, the license fee would be only 25 cents, according to SBJ.

How much is the network going to be worth to each school?

It’s hard to count that high.

Based on the rate within SEC states alone, if you multiply $1.30 times 12 months times the estimated 30 million subscribers in that footprint, you get $468 million. That would be $33.4 million per school — per year. And that’s without counting advertising revenue or subscribers from non-SEC states. Factor that in, and the SEC Network could easily be worth $500 million per year or $35.7 million per school once full distribution is achieved.

Currently, each SEC school gets about $20 million per year in TV revenue, so it’s easy to see what a huge impact the network will have on SEC bottom lines. LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva has said he hopes revenue from the SEC Network will reduce or at least postpone the need for raising ticket prices.

How can I get the SEC Network?

Currently, the only major carriers in south Louisiana who carry the network are AT&T U-Verse and Dish Network.

ESPN and Cox officials are tight-lipped about negotiations at this point, which are taking place with Cox’s national headquarters in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Eatel is a one of about 1,000 local providers across the nation who are negotiating for SEC Network through an organization called the National Cable Television Cooperative.

“We fully anticipate having it when it launches in August,” Eatel spokesman Trae Russell said Thursday.

Will the SEC Network meet its distribution goals by Aug. 14?

Unlikely. At this point, Connolly said the network is at about 20-25 percent of its goal and he didn’t sound panicked about that number.

“If you look back at new networks as a whole, holes are filled toward the end,” Connolly said.

“The next 75 days are about trying to have productive conversations with people.”

In other words, expect a lot of 11th-hour deals, at least before the network’s really critical date: Aug. 28. That’s when it will show an SEC football doubleheader — Texas A&M at South Carolina and Temple at Vanderbilt.

Meanwhile, people like Alleva and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive suggested the network is available to any and all who want to drop their current provider and switch to AT&T or Dish Network. That rather cavalier attitude reflects the SEC’s hard line and confident bargaining position.

The cable and satellite providers will sign up eventually. They know who their subscribers are and what they want. But it will probably take time.

LSU had 30 regular-season baseball games televised this season. How will the SEC Network possibly air them all?

It can’t. Connolly talked about having midweek baseball games on the SEC Network and televising as many as four SEC series per weekend, but the fact is LSU baseball fans will get fewer televised games than they have in the past. The SEC Network’s website touts 75 baseball games per season. Total.

Consider that this weekend’s NCAA Baton Rouge regional is webcast on ESPN3.com. More than half of the SEC Network’s 1,000 events will shown on its website.

That includes baseball. A lot of baseball.

Alleva said LSU is spending about $2 million to get its video production facilities up to SEC Network standards. How did they do?

“LSU’s in a good spot,” Connolly said. “They have a great video department there. We did a couple of (test) baseball games on ESPN3 and feel really good about it. We should be in good shape there.”

Connolly said only two of the SEC’s 14 schools (he declined to name them) still have work to do to be up to speed by Aug. 14. Each school is expected to provide high-definition capabilities from all its sports venues and a TV production studio. But as we said earlier, the return should be well worth it.

What about TigerVision football games or Sunday night LSU replays on CST?

Those are a thing of the past. Connolly said there will be rebroadcasts of football games in morning blocks during the week and on an on-demand basis online.

“Florida and LSU are where we’ve heard the most about this,” Connolly said. “We need to be careful not to put the same team in the same block every week, but at the same time find a way to serve fans to make it available to them and use our digital outlet to do that.”

Could the occasional a midweek baseball or a women’s basketball game could be passed on to a local provider?

“We’ve had conversations with some local folks,” Connolly said, “but at this point, we see it as one-stop shopping. If you want to see an SEC event in any sport, save the CBS package, the SEC Network or ESPN is where it’s at.”

Or at least it will be once all those pesky distribution deals are wrapped up.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.