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ESPN Forms Southeastern Conference Network in Contract Extension

Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ESPN and the Southeastern Conference announced the creation of the SEC Network, a round-the-clock media stage for one of the nation’s most dominant college athletic leagues.

The conference and ESPN also said at a news conference in Atlanta that they had extended their broadcast-rights deal for all SEC sports by 20 years through 2034, the longest such contract in the U.S. Neither ESPN President John Skipper nor SEC Commissioner Mike Slive would discuss financial terms of the agreement.

The new television channel will go on air in August 2014 and be based in ESPN facilities in Charlotte, North Carolina. It will be carried on through the conference’s 11 states on a similar level to ESPN, which reaches 100 million U.S. homes. The network probably also will be carried on a sports-tier level similar to other ESPN channels, which reach about 75 million homes, the two sides said.

“We believe that this conference has national appeal,” ESPN President John Skipper said. “This is not a regional network. This is a national network. There are a lot of SEC fans in California, Michigan, New York and Nebraska. We expect to be in all of those places.”

The Birmingham, Alabama-based SEC is the nation’s most powerful college football conference with seven straight national championships. It includes 14 schools in Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.

The SEC Network will feature 24-hour programming of 1,000 live SEC sports events annually, including 45 college football games, more than 100 men’s basketball games, studio shows and other feature programming, the two sides said.

The network has reached an initial agreement with AT&T Inc. (T)’s U-Verse for distribution and is in negotiations with other distributors, Skipper said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Buteau in Atlanta at mbuteau@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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