With the launch of a new network in August, college football in the Southeast is approaching faster than ever before. SEC football fans are excited for the debut of ESPN’s SEC Network. The change in infrastructure is not without its victims.
It may be hard to imagine a brand new network could have such a huge impact. Unless of course that network is associated with one of the most powerful conferences in collegiate sports. It hasn’t even debuted yet, but the SEC Network is already causing shockwaves throughout the sports media world. Some estimates project the network to be the fourth most profitable sports network on broadcast. If true, that’s high praise for a channel right out the gate. Senior Vice President of ESPN and head of the SEC Network Justin Connolly says the possibilities for the SEC Network are endless.
“There’s great potential and great opportunity for this network,” said Connoly. “The ability for it to grow the SEC in every area both from an editorial perspective and a financially as well. But we’ll just have to see in terms of how it evolves and builds from where we are today.”
The new network may help the SEC make up some ground. Andrew Billings, director of the sports communication program at The University of Alabama says that while the money may come in, there may be some injured parties in the process. “So you get a sense that the pie is getting bigger, and perhaps that means other properties are going to have more value,” said Billings. “But if you’re looking at the core value of college football and the rights to past games, I don’t think you have the value in local entities that you used to.”
One example of those “local entities” is WVUA-TV in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The network previously broadcast Alabama athletic events such as baseball and softball, as well as reruns of previous football games on Sundays. With the SEC Network now controlling those rights, those broadcasts may no longer be possible. Steve Diorio is Associate Director of News and Sports at WVUA-TV. He says that will be a huge adjustment for his station. “It’s a big change for us,” said Diorio.
“We’ve had to rethink how we do programming as far as sports now because we relied on those shows, those events. And in turn it would help make revenue from a sales aspect of it. It’s going to be difficult losing that revenue coming in. “ That’s not to say that WVUA-TV will completely scrap sports programming.
But the bottom of the barrel isn’t likely to contain top notch pickings, as Billings says. “ESPN has gone all in on the SEC Network and the result has been that whether it’s WVUA or Leerfield, they are left looking for secondary scraps. But that primary angle that they wanted – college football, which drives this entire engine simply isn’t going to be there anymore.”
Even if the position is not enviable, Diorio says the only thing WVUA-TV can do is to keep going. “It’s something we have to deal with,” said Diorio. “Do we like it? No. But you know what? We got to move on and try to find some other ways to continue to have some sports on our air. And just ways that we can make some money hopefully.” Ultimately, the SEC Network is about the student athletes. Steve Diorio says the University will benefit in the long term. “The SEC Channel’s good for The University, good for University Athletics, especially football and basketball – the big name sports,” said Diorio. “But it’s also going to give notoriety to a lot of the other sports that don’t get a lot of TV coverage and exposure. I think it’s good from that aspect.”
Connolly assures that ESPN will keep that in mind as well.