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How The SEC Network Took Off

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Mike Slive knew that if the Southeastern Conference wanted to increase its revenue, a conference television network would be a good idea.

But Slive, who stepped down in May after nearly 13 years as commissioner of the SEC, realized the timing wasn’t right to launch a network in 2009 when the SEC’s deals with ESPN and CBS were up for renewal, according to several athletic directors who were involved in the process. The Big Ten had already launched its network, but the economy was in recession, and rumors of more conference realignment were picking up.

Slive decided to wait.

That decision proved extremely lucrative for  the commissioner and the rest of the SEC. The conference later added Missouri and Texas A&M in 2011, increasing the SEC’s cable television footprint by more than 10 million homes, according to Nielsen data, and giving Slive the ammo he needed to move forward with a network.

The SEC Network, which celebrated its first birthday on Aug. 14, was more successful than anyone could have imagined. After the most successful network launch in cable television history, the SEC Network has a market value of $4.77 billion, according to research firm SNL Kagan. By comparison, the Big Ten Network, which launched in 2007, has a value of $1.59 billion.

How did the SEC Network blow away the competition in its first year? It starts with the fans.

“The SEC’s passion and devotion is clearly showing through here,” said Jeff Nelson, vice president of client strategy at Navigate Research. “People wanted the network and were willing to pay for the network.”

Even the most casual observer knows the South is crazy about college football. Like, run full speed inside Bryant-Denny Stadium to get Nick Saban‘s autograph crazy. It’s what brings people together and gives them an endless supply of things to talk about year-round.

That passion made up the backbone of the SEC Network’s appeal to cable providers. While the Big Ten Network battled with providers for years, the SEC Network was available in 90 million homes when it launched. The reason was simple: The cable providers knew they’d risk losing customers, particularly ones in the SEC’s footprint if it didn’t provide the network.

When AT&T U-Verse considered whether it’d add the SEC Network when it launched, it evaluated the intensity of the average SEC viewer, looking at how often and how long they watched SEC sports. What AT&T learned was that “the subscriber intensity on viewership was off the charts for what we normally see for sports,” according to Ryan Smith, vice president of content for AT&T. U-Verse, which became the first provider to sign on, even hoped other providers didn’t distribute the network immediately so they could add additional customers.

“Some of the other college conferences they do well but far and away the SEC is the most intense and has the strongest viewership of really any of those conferences,” Smith said.

Knowing it had an army of passionate viewers up its sleeve, the SEC Network negotiated an aggressive subscriber fee of $1.30 or $1.40, depending on the provider, for its 30 million in-market subscribers. That’s significantly higher than either the Big Ten or Pac-12 network rates. When adding a $0.25 out-of-market rate (outside SEC footprint), the network has an average subscriber fee of $0.66 in the 66 million subscriber homes it averaged in its first year, according to SNL Kagan.

On the conservative end, that’s $576 million in revenue without even factoring in advertising.

“That a network covering 14 schools in 11 states in this country could generate that much traction early on and that much distribution,” Mississippi State athletic directorScott Stricklin said, “it speaks to all the things we know are special about this league.”

Power of ESPN

The SEC took a different approach when it launched its network. While the Pac-12 retained full ownership in its network, which has struggled to get widespread distribution, the SEC partnered with ESPN to launch the SEC Network. The SEC doesn’t have an ownership stake in the network — ESPN has full ownership — but instead negotiated a revenue split with the sports television power.

ESPN and the SEC declined to provide the exact terms of the arrangement, but it is believed to be a little less than a 50/50 split. That could limit the long-term revenue potential for the SEC and its schools — the Big Ten still owns a little less than half of its network — but gave it a tremendous advantage when initially negotiating carriage agreements.

Any resistance the network might have faced, ESPN could muscle its way through. ESPN was able to sell the network under its umbrella of other properties, including its main ESPN channel and ESPN2, making it almost impossible for cable providers to say no. It guaranteed that the SEC Network wouldn’t get relegated to a distant channel you can’t find the way CBS Sports Network and others have in recent years.

The Pac-12, without a powerful friend like ESPN, has struggled fighting its way out of premium packages and into markets. Larry Scott, the Pac-12’s commissioner, has publicly stated he was “disappointed that DirecTV has been willing to negotiate with ESPN for the SEC Network but not Pac-12” and that it showed the provider was more interested in dealing with conglomerates.

“When ESPN gets behind something and puts its resources with a new initiative like the SEC Network, it’s an impressive thing to watch and see,” said Justin Connolly who oversaw the launch as senior vice president of college networks for ESPN. “No doubt we benefited there.”

ESPN added credibility to the operation and helped cable providers feel comfortable that the content would be high quality. The network had already launched the Longhorn Network, focused all on the University of Texas, and learned through trial-and-error what the SEC Network would need to be successful. While the Longhorn Network hasn’t met expectations, its failures taught ESPN a valuable lesson and helped power the unprecedented success of the SEC’s television channel.

Connolly, who is now executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for Disney and ESPN, relied on veterans who had experience launching networks, programming shows and televising games.

To read the rest of this article visit AL Today where it was originally published

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Lauren Shehadi: Ernie Johnson Is The Model For Studio Hosts

“To me, he’s the greatest in-studio host. What he does best is facilitate greatness.”

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In addition to her job at MLB Network being a host on MLB Central, Lauren Shehadi is hosting TBS’s Tuesday night baseball coverage each week with Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson, and Pedro Martinez. The Tuesday night games are new for Turner Sports this year after doing only Sunday games during the regular season in addition to the network’s postseason coverage. 

Shehadi was a guest on The Kyle Koster Show this week and she was asked what the goal was for her with the MLB on TBS Tuesday broadcasts. She takes a lot of inspiration from what she sees on Inside The NBA on TNT.

“I always think about Ernie Johnson in the same building. To me, he’s the greatest in-studio host. What he does best is facilitate greatness. He gets the most out of Shaq and Kenny [Smith] and Charles [Barkley]. If there’s no ego involved, it’s all about how the show can be so great.

“You look at him and you think how can I be like that? You want to be authentic and be yourself, but in the sense of getting the best out of your guys and girls that you talk to every day. That was my goal going in, Be authentic.”

Shehadi said she gets to spend a lot of time with Johnson and the rest of the Turner Sports crew. Tuesday nights tend to be something of a corporate family reunion. 

“On Tuesday nights, we all sit in a room and we all watch NBA, MLB, and NHL when it’s on. We get Shaq’s reaction to Sandy Alcantara’s slider in real-time. What we see from Inside The NBA is when they do demos. When they get up and walk and they are casual and they do little bits, that’s what we try to take to our show, but we want it to feel authentic.” 

When Shehadi isn’t hosting Turner Sports’ baseball coverage, she is a part of MLB Central every weekday on MLB Network with Robert Flores and Mark DeRosa. On that show, the goal for her is how to make baseball relatable to everyone: 

“That’s the sweet spot of MLB Central. No question is silly. Nobody is smarter than the other. We laugh at ourselves. We laugh at each other. It is just a fun 4 hours, grab your coffee, let’s talk the game, let’s laugh because life is short and baseball is fun.” 

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AT&T Sportsnet’s Kelsey Wingert Shows Off Stitches After Being Drilled Line Drive

“The veteran reporter is expected to get married in June. Doctors are “hoping” the scar doesn’t effect her big day.”

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Baseball reporters at the regional level have some of the toughest jobs in all of sports. Not only do they cover each for all 162 games, but there’s always the potential for getting drilled by a foul ball.

While all MLB ball clubs have expanded their netting this season to protect fans sitting close to the field, Rockies sideline reporter Kelsey Wingert suffered a nasty injury via a foul ball earlier this week.

A scary incident took place on Monday’s outing against the Rockies and San Francisco Giants at Coors Field in Denver. In the ninth inning, Giants outfielder Austin Slater hit a foul ball off Daniel Bard, with the ball heading straight to the dugout, right where Wingert was standing while reporting for AT&T Sportsnet.

After getting attended to by the Rockies medical staff and walking it off, giving fans a “thumbs up,” Wingert ended up having to go to the hospital where she received multiple stitches to her forehead.

The 29-year-old reporter took to Twitter on Wednesday to express her gratitude towards the Rockies organization and AT&T Sportsnet general manager David Woodman, who along with his wife Paula, stayed by her side at the hospital.

“I had a CT scan to make sure there was no internal bleeding or fractures and all came back clear. Thank God,” Wingert said on Twitter Wednesday. “The stitches will have to come out in a week. I’m very lucky it wasn’t worse. It was just really scary and bummed me out given the circumstances.”

You would think this was the first time Wingert got hit by a ball but back in 2018 while working for Fox Sports and the Atlanta Braves she was struck by a foul ball while standing near a camera past the Braves dugout, resulting in a fractured eye socket. 

Wingert retweeted a photo taken of her black eye after returning home where she made light of what could’ve been an awful occurrence.

While recovering from her wound, Wingert will be taking a few games off. The veteran reporter is expected to get married in June. Doctors are “hoping” the scar doesn’t effect her big day.

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Greg Olsen To Partner With Kevin Burkhardt For Super Bowl LVII

“Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.”

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The deal isn’t done yet, but Andrew Marchand of The New York Post reports that Greg Olsen is on his way to joining Kevin Burkhardt in the top NFL booth at FOX. Although Tom Brady will take over that role after he retires and leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Olsen will spend at least this season on FOX’s A-Team.

Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.

Earlier this year, the former Panther told The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte that he was disappointed he didn’t get to call a postseason game. He will more than make up for that in 2023. As Burkhardt’s partner, Olsen is in line to be the analyst for Super Bowl LVII.

Marchand writes that we could get a taste of what is to come in February. He speculates that if the Buccaneers are not in the Super Bowl, it is possible Tom Brady could make his FOX debut, either in the booth alongside Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen or as part of the network’s studio show.

Now, FOX has to make a decision about it’s number 2 NFL booth. According to Marchand, Drew Brees is a candidate to be the analyst. Adam Amin and Joe Davis have emerged as candidates for the play-by-play role.

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