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Expect growing pains for SEC Network

Published 1:55pm Monday, May 26, 2014

You probably shouldn’t care as much as you do about the SEC Network.
Sure, it’s a statement that probably comes off as a bit rude and maybe a tad dismissive, but I will say again that the flagship network of ESPN’s flagship conference (yes, ESPN’s flagship conference) is probably, maybe, totally, definitely not that important.
If history is any indicator, and man does history love repeating itself, the SEC Network is likely be a disappointment – at least in its early stages.
For those of you who do not know (all five of you), the Southeastern Conference Network is a new network gift wrapped and hosted by the worldwide leader in sports (ESPN), and is set to kick off in August 2014 with a football game featuring the University of South Carolina vs. Texas A&M.
I know you’re saying, “that’s not a bad game to kick off the network with (Or your more likely saying, “I wish Alabama or Auburn were playing in that game”).”
But as history has shown us with the unveiling of not only conference networks, but also professional sports networks, the programming you are more likely to get in the early stages are more likely to be games and shows you wouldn’t want to watch in the first place.
When the NFL Network launched in 2003, it touted exclusive content in the form of NFL Combine and training camp coverage, which it delivered. But, as you know, the combine and training camps only happen once a year.
What that means is that nine times out of 10, the NFL Network was showing old NFL Films shows or Football Follies, which aren’t even fit for ESPN Classic.
The NFL is just now, after years of negotiating with the major TV networks, getting enough games on Thursdays and soon Saturdays to actually make the network worthwhile from a fan perspective.
Another great example is the highly-touted, cash-printing machine that is the Big Ten Network.
In 2013-2014 alone, the Big Ten Network netted an estimated $25 million per member. That number is what we have to thank for the recent round of nonsensical conference realignment as every conference tries to reshape itself to make more cash.
So, Big Ten members get more money, and Big Ten fans get more exclusive content.
Sounds great for everyone, right? Wrong.
Here’s a glimpse of last year’s Big Ten Network schedule:
Saturday, September 7
6 PM – Syracuse at Northwestern
6 PM – Southern Miss at Nebraska
Saturday, September 14
6 PM – UCF at Penn State
6 PM – Washington vs. Illinois (at Soldier Field)
9 PM – Western Michigan at Northwestern
Are any of those games worth your time or extra money? I’m sure the counter argument is that the SEC is a “better” conference, so naturally it will present “better” games for its shiny, new network.
But here is a cold, hard truth that makes the SEC Network – just like any other conference network – a little pointless from the start: the best games will always be on the major networks – think ESPN, ABC and CBS.
You will never see the Iron Bowl on the SEC Network. You will never see Auburn-LSU on the SEC Network, nor should you want to because right now the majority of major cable and satellite providers aren’t even sure they’re getting the SEC Network.
It’s to the point that ESPN itself has had to post a website (getsecnetwork.com) asking fans to “demand” their cable or satellite provider buy the SEC Network from ESPN. That’s a depressing thought – that ESPN is having trouble selling a network dedicated to the nation’s premier conference.
All of this to see primetime football matchups that are more likely to be Alabama vs. Western Carolina, Auburn vs. Louisiana Tech or Kentucky vs., well, anyone, because seriously, who wants to watch Kentucky play football against anyone?
The SEC Network may hit its stride someday, of that I have no doubt, but it likely will not be worth your dollars to start off.
Hudson is a staff writer for The Outlook.

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