'Dores gear up for launch of SEC Network

May 19, 2014

By Jerome Boettcher | Subscribe to Commodore Nation

In less than three months, the much-anticipated SEC Network will launch.

On Aug. 14, a new era begins for the conference and its member institutions—and Vanderbilt is ready to reap the rewards.

While financially, the network will cause a boom, administrators and coaches are equally excited about the exposure its programs will receive—and not just football and men’s basketball.

Every women’s basketball game, baseball game, women’s soccer game and women’s lacrosse game also will be aired—either on the SEC’s linear network or on the digital network online.

“The potential for our Olympic sports to really start to grow from the network is really a tremendous upside,” director of sales and marketing Steve Walsh said. “That is the type of stuff that creates national brands. In the last four or five years we’ve raised our brand profile, but this has an opportunity to really push it to the next level.”

The athletics department is investing $3.5 million into the SEC Network. A state-of-the-art control room is being revamped in Memorial Gymnasium. All TV productions—for every sport—will be headquartered out of this studio. Optical cable fiber is being installed to connect to the baseball stadium, outdoor track and lacrosse and soccer complex.

The control room has already proved to be beneficial. Last Thursday, ESPNU was set to televise Vanderbilt baseball’s opening game of a three-game series against South Carolina. The ESPN truck was missing a piece of vital equipment in order to air the game. Vanderbilt officials stepped up and allowed them to connect to the control room as an extension of ESPN’s production truck. All graphics for the broadcast ran out of the control room.

The next day, a trial run took place out of the control room, with the Friday game being aired out of the control room. Local radio personality Kevin Ingram provided play-by-play while Vanderbilt director of baseball operations Drew Fann offered color analysis on ESPN3.com.

New equipment is being ordered. Every game will have up to four cameras to offer multiple replay angles. Director of video operations Steven Parks plans to hire additional staff—full-time and freelancers. Vanderbilt also will have to provide a play-by-play analyst and a color commentator for each broadcast.

“The idea of the digital network is to have the same quality broadcast you would see on the linear network,” said Parks, who has been at Vanderbilt since 2001. “It is hard to believe over the course of the last 10 years how much everything has grown. I think 10 years ago being able to put any kind of live video content on to a website was a dream. Now looking at having full production with replays and graphics and everything and pushing all that content out, it is pretty amazing to see how far we’ve come.”

Vanderbilt must provide at least 40 games for the digital platform, which will be part of the package when subscribers order the SEC Network from their cable provider. Any non-conference or conference men’s and women’s home basketball games that don’t make a linear network—SEC, ESPN, CBS—will be broadcast digitally.

Expect more than 20 Vanderbilt baseball games to air on the SEC Network—either on the linear or digital network. And all eight home games for women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse—even though the SEC doesn’t have lacrosse—will be broadcast.

“It is going to benefit us a lot—in-house production as well as getting Vanderbilt’s brand out even more than we already have,” Parks said. “Being able to leverage the power of ESPN and their networks to be able to reach out further than we have before.”

Athletic director David Williams doesn’t want to stop at games.

He knows the network will be searching for content to run on the network 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The SEC has organized a content committee to pitch ideas to the network, which will be based in Charlotte. Williams envisions coaches shows and more all-access profiles of the team. He also hopes the Commodores will be able to highlight their unique endeavors, such as foreign tour trips or service quests such as the one where 21 student-athletes went to Tanzania with Soles4Souls to donate shoes last summer.

“It will be a good fit for the fan base,” athletic director David Williams said. “The good thing for Vanderbilt, you have the opportunity to get a lot more of your teams on a vehicle people can see. I think it will help us get our story out.”

The financial benefit is not measurable at the moment.

Last summer, each of the 14 member institutions received $20.7 million from the SEC’s record $289.4 million in revenue. Williams guesses eventually schools will make 50 percent more a year thanks to the SEC Network and the new college football playoff.

Of course, that number depends on total subscribers. Vanderbilt and the league continue to push fans to ask their cable providers to supply the SEC Network (getsecnetwork.com). Currently, the DISH Network and AT&T U-verse are the only providers signed on to carry the SEC Network.

The network won’t just benefit fans at home. Those at games at Vanderbilt Stadium and Memorial Gymnasium will see a difference on the video boards, as well.

“From a fan experience standpoint, the investment doesn’t only help the SEC Network, but it helps the fan that is sitting in the stands,” Walsh said. “It will allow us some functionality we didn’t have before. We’ve talked about live look-ins at other games and additional replay angles we didn’t have access to.”

Williams, however, admits with the partnership with ESPN, SEC schools will have to be flexible at times.

Scheduling is already a concern. As the network tries to “fill inventory,” as Williams puts it, more weekday games for soccer and lacrosse will appear. Williams biggest concerns center around how much class time will be missed and how this will affect travel arrangements and costs. He pointed out that Tennessee’s football season opener against Utah State will be on a Sunday night—on the SEC Network.

By entering into the TV business, he said, schools become their own competitor. With every game being on TV or online, getting fans to buy tickets becomes harder.

But on Aug. 14, Vanderbilt and the SEC begin a new chapter all parties involved hopes delivers more pros than cons.

“I think a lot of us are thinking it’s not going to change that much; I think it will,” Williams said. “I think the whole college sports environment is going to change. We don’t have any idea what direction but one of them is if we continue to chase the dollar, which I guess we have to, you’re going to have to play (any time).”



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