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SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the league’s network partnership with ESPN will offer “something for every SEC fan, all the time.”


ATLANTA — Mike Slive, having detailed components of the SEC’s multimedia-marriage with ESPN and having dodged questions of how many millions it would generate, playfully exited the media huddle by giving one reporter an atta-boy pat on his backside.

Pairing a lawyer’s intellect with a coach’s mannerisms, Slive showed once again why he’s the perfect captain for a league rich not only with crystal trophies but also the most lasting and lucrative television contract in college sports.

Thursday’s glitzy unveiling of the SEC Network — a ceremony opened by some 30 SEC head coaches being introduced single-file as if they were Miss America contestants — revealed a partnership with ESPN that will further stoke the jealousy of non-Southern football fans who have long sensed the Worldwide Sports Leader was too huggy with the conference.

Now they’re tethered by a contract extension that lasts through 2034 (by which time the SEC will be yawning over its 28th consecutive national football crown) and a 24/7 network estimated to generate about $28 million annually to each of the league’s 14 schools.

Slive’s bold ambition for the network that debuts in August 2014: “Something for every SEC fan, all the time.”

That equates to 1,000 live events each year, highlighted by 45 football games and 100 more in men’s basketball. Even some 16 months before its go-live, the SEC Network already has a major distributor: AT&T U-verse. Don’t have that in your area? Log on to and get a head-start on lobbying your provider.

ESPN overseer Justin Connolly likened the long-awaited launch as time “to take the tarp off this Ferrari.”

In order for the SEC Network to exist, the individual schools had to reclaim the precious TV inventory they previously sold to third-tier rightsholders such as IMG and Learfield. One source said the schools paid handsomely for the buyback, which was actually a partial buyback, considering the sports marketing giants retained rights to radio broadcasts, some coaches shows, and advertising signage.

“It was a win-win for everybody involved,” said Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs, “or else they wouldn’t have done it.”

Big Ten and Pac-12 universities undertook a similar buyback when those leagues launched networks, which might leave some West Virginia fans wondering whether WVU’s decision to finally outsource its third-tier rights is running counter to industry trends.

Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long, a self-described advocate of outsourcing, negotiated deals with IMG at Arkansas in 2008 and at Pitt in 2005.

“In my mind, that’s such a specialized area,” he said. “We didn’t have people working in that day in and day out. (Firms like IMG) were the ones who could grow the product. If you just do it yourself, you can’t get to those national entities. and you can’t get your brand out in those places. I always felt like the outsourcing was the key to getting our brand more widely dispersed.”

Long reasoned that almost no Division I programs still handle third-tier rights marketing in-house because “it’s not the most efficient model.” He claimed such attempts at Pitt and Arkansas left both programs “tremendously undervalued.” For instance, he recalled Arkansas’ revenue jumping from $2.8 million to $5.2 million the first year it outsourced to IMG.

“I don’t think that you can compensate your people at the appropriate level to get the best sales people,” he said. “You can’t do the training that’s necessary to keep people on the cutting edge in sales. To me, that’s one of the things you leave to the professionals. They’re good at it.”

IMG College, of course, was in negotiations to acquire WVU’s third-tier rights — at least until bidding irregularities perpetuated by athletics director Oliver Luck and Board of Governors chairman Drew Payne stalled the contract and drew the ire of West Virginia Radio Corp., the parent company of MetroNews. After the state attorney general’s office verified ethical questions, WVU pledged to rebid the package, a process currently ongoing with Luck and Payne recused this time around.

Each SEC school is reportedly projected to draw $28 million annually from network proceeds alone — a figure separate from bowl payouts, its first-tier CBS deal and the remaining third-tier rights. Yet revenue is but one factor fueling to the formation of conference networks. (Can some ACC variety be far behind?) Another impulse is to maximize exposure for a league’s athletic programs.

When he was the football coach at Wisconsin in 2007, Bret Bielema witnessed first-hand the debut of the Big Ten Network, and he quickly came to appreciate how it opened up nontraditional recruiting areas for the Badgers.

“We were always going to be popular in Wisconsin, and Chicago and the surrounding Midwest, but all of a sudden I was in a home in Fort Lauderdale and the dad said ‘I can’t wait for my son to be on a network that I can see him play every week.’”

On Thursday, Bielema sounded thrilled to be settling in at Arkansas just as the SEC carves out its own channel.

“The true value is when I’m in a young man’s home three years from now, and he says, ‘I’ve been watching your coach’s TV show for three years,’” Bielema said. “That’s the stuff that has a cumulative effect.

“The exposure that we’re getting by jumping into a partnership with ESPN, that is something you can’t begin to fathom.”

Exposure is hardly a concern for Kentucky’s John Calipari, though he joined the chorus of coaches emphasizing how much the ESPN tie means to his powerhouse program.

“Kids still want to be on ESPN,” he said. “You can do your own network and all those things, but kids still want to be on ESPN. We just tied ourselves to Macy’s. We’re not trying to create a new brand.”

What does the SEC’s forthcoming network signal for the Big 12, considering the leagues share a footprint in the state of Texas and frequently face off in recruiting battles? Financially, the 10 members of the Big 12 are stable, but the difference in wins, losses and prestige could spell a different bottom line.

Like the ACC, the Big 12 clearly resides in the SEC’s shadow, and with Slive’s league about to commandeer its own channel, the shadow’s only growing bigger.

“This is a national network. This is not a regional network,” said ESPN president Jon Skipper. “We understand that in the 11-state footprint is where the most passionate fans are, but there are a lot of SEC fans in California and Texas and New York and Connecticut and Virginia and Nebraska.”

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  • derek

    I really don't care another ploy by Espn to perfect their plan to coverthe 4conference. We should be happy WVU has landed in Big 12 company. This is a solid conference. The BE was a good conference with a lack of leadership. Sick of ESPN period they are like Walmart trying to get rid of all competition then everyone will have to bow to them.

  • CaptainQ

    Don't have to worry about a 'Big 12 Network' being formed, and we can all thank the University of Texas for that!

    Remember how Texas negotiated a deal with ESPN for the 'Longhorn Network' several years ago? It was that deal that prompted Nebraska, Texas A & M and Missouri to leave the conference in the first place! Because U of Texas got greedy and decided to rake in all the ESPN cash for themselves, the rest of the Big 12 (including WVU) is now 'on the outside looking in' as far as a big time conference media network is concerned. No point in WVU keeping all their Tier 3 rights for themselves when (thanks to Texas) there's little else they can do with them.

  • cutty77

    I see you got your Name Big Tom, Honest. Give me another Helping of those Mashed Potato's. Thank You,Thank You Very Much

  • big tom

    we want more, more is better than less, more, we want more, that's why we like it cause more is better , we want more

  • cutty77

    To answer your first question,there is not enough on here to do that,and WVRC wouldn't let it be printed anyway. But The Big 12 has been talking about there own network,but you have to understand Texas already has its own deal with ESPN.Its Called Long Horn Network,thats why Texas A&M,Nebraska,and Mizzu left The Big 12 because they were Mad at Texas for getting that,and thats how WVU got in The Big 12. WVU is making more money in one year,than it did in 5 years combined in THe Big East. WVU should be able survive on 35 million a year. Anyway the More you make the more you spend. We will be OK lol

  • Kate

    The more pertinent qusetion is not why is WVU bidding out rights now when a possible Big 12 network would required a buyout, but why did WVU not bid out 3rd tier rights 10 years ago? Or even 7 years ago when Rodriguez begged for it? Why was Pastilong so behind in the game, that by the time WVU moves forward to sellings it's rights to IMG or Learfield, more forward thinking conferences are moving on to something else?

    Also, I think there are 2 or 3 other points here to understand. The SEC required a partial buy back of rights, not a full buyback. The radio rights were not bought back. Also, the amount of money they are going to make with the SEC network (28 million per year) will more than make up for the money spent out of pocket on a partial buy back. Finally, the Big 12 does not have a TV network so any talk about a possible, partial buy back being required of Big 12 members is really speculative. This SEC Network was years in the making and still won't launch unilt mid-2014. If a Big 12 network comes to exist, it would likely take a few, if not several, years to put all the pieces together. Why should WVU lose out on 5 or 6 million a year from IMG or Learfield in the interim?

    • Guardian

      Go the other way with your last question, Kate. How much of the $5 or $6 million does WVU pocket if later they have to buy those rights back? And the follow up question, who benefits if WVU has to buy back?

      The last question gives some clue to why there is such a rush to close the deal with WVU. IMG, Learfield, CBS and others who bid KNOW what the trend is and can see they day they can become the seller instead of the buyer. So if IMG wins WVU's Tier 3 rights, they and their partner WVMC would benefit in a buy back, right?

  • cutty77

    The Big 12 an WVU are still in Great shape. When we become a full member,it will be 25 mill,and thats in a couple of years,then get 10 mill for 3rd Tier Rights. Thats 35 mill. anyway you slice it. The Big 12 Teams still make the most per Team because of our Size. Plus we are Hooked up with The SEC,so we will be OK. The ACC will still be The Least Payed per Team,so quit crying about being in The ACC. Less is More.

  • big tom

    hey , we made our bed now we have to sleep in it,,, the acc and sec flatly didn't want us... staying in the BE was not an option.. i'm happy where we are considering the alternatives.
    we'll be making more money than we ever expected in a few yrs.. so third tier r\ights in this conf. probably should be sold.
    maybe we c\ould reconsider or at a clause ab out a buyback at a late date, but we'll be ok,, now all we have to do is upgrade our FB and BB programs so we don't embarrass ourselves on tv all the time

  • Guardian

    Thank you Allan for writing this story - I had a hunch you'd do it - too pertinent to ignore, wasn't it?

    This highlights what I'd said when the stories about WVU rebidding the Tier 3 rights were circulating. The Big Ten, the Pac 12, and now the SEC have packaged the Tier 3 rights (exception being probably radio rights) on a conference basis and it seems WVU's leadership is moving in a direction counter to the prevailing trend.

    There are only a SMALL handful of schools that can possibly go it alone for their Tier 3 rights and still maximize the net return. We all know who they are - they're the giants in the college football world - giants in reputation and not necessarily giants in current performance. We're talking name recognition here - Alabama, LSU, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan, USC, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma to make a short list of this elite name recognition entities. And the Big XII has two of them.

    Now Allan, finish the story. We already know that Texas & Oklahoma are going to have their own networks - and there is no changing that simply because they can do it due to their name recognition. BUT, we also know that in the recent past both Fox and ESPN have reached out to the other 8 Big XII schools wanting to discuss a packaged arrangement with them similar to that of the other three power conferences.

    My question is WHY isn't WVU's leadership using our AD's alleged close relationships within the conference to get the other 7 schools talking to Fox or ESPN instead of trying to go it alone?

    • Will

      Very good question Guardian, maybe certain individuals will benefit more if WVU goes it alone.....,????

      • Guardian

        Spot on, Will. Follow the money. Who benefits if WVU has to later buy back the rights?

  • Phil M.

    I'll be honest with the missed opportunity of getting Louisville in the Big 12, the inability to recruit anybody else to bridge that gap for WVU and our travel woes, I'm not feeling the love from our conference. The new commissiner isn't exactly worried about WVU being on an island in the Big 12 and you can bet DeLoss Dodds is not either. All I hear about is bigger is not better and lets take the money to the bank. at some point we need to be at 12 or 14 and it does not need to be more midwest or further teams. We need a couple of USF's, Cincinnati's, etc for our benefit.

    • Maxxajay

      Phil I agree with you 100% the big 12 has to make a move and has to expand they have missed out on Louisville and they need to do something pretty fast .. The big 12 cannot sit on their hands like the Big East did they will get picked apart from the other leagues like the ACC did the Big East..

  • Dave

    If they wanted what's best for WVU they would pay the same amount as IMG will or shut up about it.

  • Habib Haddad

    Audible: referee's whistle. Visual: handkerchef thrown into the air. Call: Piling on!

  • Jim

    Allan, we get your point. Third Tier Rights buyback is happening and it is costly. But, that may be what is best for those conferences and not what's best for WVU. We are not in the SEC or PAC 12. Let WVU do what is best for WVU.

  • Chef Camille

    Naaaa were idiots.

  • Hop'sHip

    Hmmm. "Big Ten and Pac-12 universities undertook a similar buyback when those leagues launched networks, which might leave some West Virginia fans wondering whether WVU’s decision to finally outsource its third-tier rights is running counter to industry trends."

    "Long reasoned that almost no Division I programs still handle third-tier rights marketing in-house because 'it’s not the most efficient model.' He claimed such attempts at Pitt and Arkansas left both programs “tremendously undervalued.”

    Do you not think this second point my have some fans wondering why they took so long?