Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
SEC's TV network set to roll
Southeastern Conference (SEC) Commissioner Mike Slive speaks during SEC media days on Monday, July 14, 2014, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
FAYETTEVILLE -- If you live in Arkansas and have a television, you should have access to the SEC Network when it debuts at 5 p.m. today.
"Unless you're using an antenna to get your television, you're in," said Mike Waddell, Arkansas' associate athletic director for external operations. "If you're getting television from any of the mainstream ways now, you're going to get the SEC Network."
The SEC Network will be available in more than 91 million homes, said Kristie Chong Adler of ESPN communications, making it one of the most successful launches in cable television history.
The network reached agreements this month for distribution on DirecTV, Charter and Suddenlink to surge well past the goal of reaching 75 million homes before the launch. The logo for the new network contains the familiar SEC logo on the left and ESPN above the word Network in a key-shaped design, symbolizing the joint venture and entry into homes.
"It has been a remarkable experience to see the network come together in the last year," said Herb Vincent, an SEC associate commissioner who is a North Little Rock native and Catholic High School graduate.
The SEC and ESPN will jointly own and operate the network in a 20-year agreement that runs into 2034.
The list of carriers for the network is massive, including AT&T U-Verse, Comcast, Cox Cable, Dish Network, Google Fiber, Time Warner Cable & Bright House Networks and many others, making it the largest sports network launch.
NASA is even making the SEC Network available on the International Space Station for astronaut Barry Wilmore to watch games on his computer, according to The Tennessean.
Subscribers to the SEC Network within the 11-state SEC footprint are expected to pay about $1.40 per month for the access, according to the Sports Business Journal, while subscribers in non-SEC states are expected to pay about 26 cents per month.
For subscribers who already have premium channels such as the NFL, MLB and NBA networks, there likely won't be an immediate increase in their monthly bill.
The SEC Network will debut with a three-hour episode of SEC Now, which will feature segments on all 14 SEC schools. The University of Arkansas will have a presence on opening night with live cut-ins from the Razorbacks women's soccer team's 7 p.m. exhibition game against Creighton. The soccer game also will stream live on other platforms associated with the network for viewers with laptops, tablets and smart phones.
The SEC Network has far surpassed the launch numbers for the Big Ten and Pacific-12, the only other conferences to have their own networks.
"It helps when you have the power of ESPN behind it," said Waddell, who after 13 months at Arkansas has accepted a job as an associate athletic director at Illinois starting Aug. 25.
Chong Adler said the SEC Network will be available to eight of the top 10 multichannel video distributors in the country, which will make it accessible by approximately 90 percent of homes with cable in the United States.
The Big Ten Network -- which has an operating agreement with Fox Entertainment and now matches the SEC's availability -- reached about 18 million homes when it launched in 2007, although within a month it had increased to 30 million.
The Pac-12 Network, run by the conference, reached about 14 million homes when it launched in 2012 and now reaches about 26 million.
Subscription rates for the Big Ten Network add an estimated 36 cents to a subscriber's monthly bill, with the Pac-12 Network adding 80 cents, according to the Sports Business Journal.
SEC schools received about $20 million each from the league's television revenues last season, but that total could soar to $35 million or beyond with the SEC Network, according to media reports.
Several SEC schools had to invest in more on-campus infrastructure to be able to send content directly to the SEC Network headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., or to ESPN in Bristol, Conn. Arkansas spent $7 million on upgrades to a studio and video control area at Walton Arena to provide television capabilities at all of its sports venues.
Waddell said there are now probably 25 to 30 miles of cable in the control room.
"Out of the 14 SEC schools, we were easily the 14th a year ago," Waddell said of Arkansas' television quality and capabilities. "The technology we had before was truly dated. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn't. That didn't really reflect well on the athletic department or the university.
"Everything we have now is state-of-the-art. It's like we've gone form VHS tape to fiber optic HD."
The $7 million investment also includes doubling full-time staff, Waddell said, from five to 10 to help the athletic department meet its SEC Network obligations.
There are benefits beyond the SEC Network for Arkansas, which previously had to hire outside companies to stream video on its high-definition scoreboard at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Now the athletic department can do that from its 13,000-square-foot operation in Walton Arena.
Arkansas also will be able to take audio from SEC Network televised events and stream it over the UA digital platforms for free, Waddell said.
Tennessee spent $10 million on its operations for the SEC Network, while Auburn spent $5 million on upgrades and LSU spent $3 million.
Ole Miss spent about $750,000 on upgrades to meet the SEC Network standards because it was among the schools that already had substantial video departments.
"Each school is in a little different spot coming into this," SEC associate commissioner for network relations Charlie Hussey told The Associated Press. "A lot of our schools had done a good amount of work already in the infrastructure for this, while others had a little further along to go."
The SEC Network will broadcast more than 1,000 SEC events, including 45 football games, 100 men's basketball games, 75 baseball games and 60 women's basketball games.
Texas A&M at South Carolina will be the first football game shown on the network, with a 5 p.m. kickoff Aug. 28. Arkansas' season opener at Auburn at 3 p.m. Aug. 30 also will be televised by the SEC Network as its second conference game.
Sports on 08/14/2014