SEC announces 15-year deal with ESPN

Conference decides against launching own net

NEW YORK -- The Southeastern Conference has looked down the path toward starting its own network and said, "No thanks."

The SEC announced a massive 15-year deal with ESPN on Monday for all of its televised sports, effectively eliminating the possibility that it would start its own network a la the Big Ten and the Mountain West.

Instead, the SEC will tie up its fortunes with the cable giant until 2024 for an amount believed to be in the area of an eye-popping $2.25 billion.

The SEC-ESPN agreement gives the network the rights to some highly coveted football and basketball games as well as a host of Olympic and other sports, including a bevy of national championships. Many of the deal points expand on the reach of ESPN's current deal with the SEC, which expires next year.

The net said Monday that it will distribute SEC content through various linear platforms including its two flagship cable nets as well as ABC, ESPNU and digital platforms such as ESPN360 and ESPN Mobile.

The new pact follows a 15-year agreement the SEC signed with CBS earlier in the month. That deal gave CBS several perks for some of the higher-profile sports that it didn't have under its expiring deal, including first dibs on an SEC football game every week.

The ESPN arrangement returns the favor, giving the sports network some advantages it didn't hold under its previous deal, including the rights to the semifinals and finals of the SEC men's basketball tournament (which will be broadcast on ABC), an increase in football games to 20 per season and two additional nights of regular-season men's hoops.

Like other conferences and pro teams, the SEC had been making noise about starting its own network, a move that would have given it greater control and upside but also more financial vulnerability.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive told reporters Monday that the ESPN and CBS deals give the conference long-term security "without the problems and risks associated with starting a network."

Slive also said he initially wanted to go the route of starting a network but decided that the economic risks, as well as the comparatively greater broadcasting freedom the SEC gave its member schools, would make that difficult.

Still, the very possibility that the SEC could have gone its own way gave the conference increased leverage in negotiations and assured that both CBS and ESPN would sign on for the longest-range pacts in the history of televised sports.

The biggest loser in the new ESPN deal will be Raycom, the Alabama-based station owner and sports syndication entity that had been syndicating many of the conference's non-national games. ESPN will handle syndicating those games under its regional television division when the new agreements kick in next year.

To avoid the deal becoming a relative bargain as it stretches to 2024, parties are building in provisions that allow for adjustments in revenue formulas in response to changing market conditions and digital realities.

The drama over the SEC rights had put two trends on a collision path: the tendency for leagues and teams to start their own networks and ESPN's appetite to buy up TV rights to feed its many platforms.
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