SEC, ESPN team up on television contract

A long-term TV deal with ESPN on the heels of another with CBS means SEC fans will know what channels to flip to for the foreseeable future.

That is, if they get all the ESPN channels.

The 15-year deal announced Monday with ESPN means more than 5,500 SEC competitions — including the Kentucky football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and other sports and conference championships — will be on one of several channels connected to the "worldwide leader."

SEC officials would not disclose the ESPN deal's financial figures, but Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal reported online that the deal was worth $2.25 billion, about $150 million annually, according to The Associated Press.

The deal preempts any discussion of creating a conference channel, like the Big Ten Network.

It follows the announcement on Aug. 14 of the SEC's 15-year, $55 million extension with CBS. CBS will have the first choice for football games and continue to broadcast some basketball games.

Both new deals begin a year from now with the 2009-10 seasons, when the current agreement with Raycom Sports expires.

Jimmy Rayburn, Raycom's vice president for operations, said his company was "very disappointed" to not be included in the SEC's future, but said all they could do was "go out with a bang."

Rayburn declined to say how much his company's current eight-year deal was worth, but said the new ESPN deal is about three times the money.

How this will affect UK fans remains to be seen.

Many Insight Cable subscribers get ESPN and ESPN2, but many don't receive other ESPN entities, including ESPNU and ESPN Classic. To get those, they must pay an extra $12 per month for a "Digital Choice Pak."

For Time-Warner viewers, ESPN and ESPN2 are offered for classic cable subscribers. However, to get ESPN Classic an upgrade to digital cable is necessary. It will cost an additional $7 per month to get ESPNU because it's on a different channel tier.

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said more SEC programming on the various channels will likely create more demand for the channels to be more widely offered.

"There is hope that as more live programming and more stuff appears from our league that more folks and more cable partners and satellite subscribers will want to pick up the channels they don't currently have," he said.

Under the current contracts, UK receives $6.2 million in shared TV revenue, Barnhart said. He could not estimate how UK will benefit from the new deal.

The deals will make the SEC the most widely distributed conference in the country.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said the deal will help improve the SEC schools' recruiting and image.

"One of the reasons that this league has developed into one of the top leagues in the country is because we have tremendous exposure," Saban said.

The new deal will also add a second and third night of SEC basketball coverage on ESPN and ESPN2 each week. ABC will add two nationally televised regular-season hoops games and broadcast the SEC tournament semifinals and championship game.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader