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May 2, 2013

ESPN, SEC Network join forces

ATLANTA - Probably the worst-kept secret in college football finally became official Thursday when ESPN and the Southeastern Conference announced the formation of the SEC Network during a press conference at the Hyatt Regency downtown.

"The SEC Network will provide an unparalleled fan experience of top quality SEC content presented across the television network and its accompanying digital platform," SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said. "We will increase exposure of SEC athletics programs at all 14 member institutions, as we showcase the incredible student athlete in our league."

The Network will kick off in August of 2014 and be part of a new 20-year media agreement between ESPN and the SEC that will run through 2034.

SEC Digital Network

Financial details of the contract were not disclosed, but Slive revealed that the new deal calls for 45 football games to be televised live per year - three a week for 13 weeks - 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games and 75 baseball games each year.

AT&T U-verse has been secured as the network's first national distributor. Championship sessions for the league's 21 sports will also be televised, along with original content, such as "SEC Storied, National Signing Day and Pro Day events as well as specific school content produced and developed just for the network.

"In short, there will be something for every SEC fan, all the time," Slive said. "This project is something we're looking forward and definitely excited about its launch."

ESPN President John Skipper said coming together with the conference to form the SEC Network was a no-brainer.

"With the interest and the passion that this part of the country has, I believe this a unique opportunity and nothing quite like this has been done before," Skipper said. "The level of distribution we'll have from the beginning, the overall production and the amount of games that we'll have, the integration of digital platforms, this has taken us to another level and that's why we're thrilled to be here."

The conference's 14 head coaches who attended the event had plenty of positive things to say as well.

"I think it's great for our players, and all the athletes in the SEC. I think it's particularly positive for the fans that now they're going to be able to see more SEC events," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "I think the exposure is great for the student-athletes and this is going to be a venue that's going to provide a tremendous amount of exposure for all student athletes."

Georgia's Mark Richt sees other benefits as well.

According to the Bulldog head coach, he suspects the new network could also serve to boost recruiting for all sports.

"There's going to be so much content out there that from age 5 to 95, it's going to appeal to a lot of people," Richt said. "I think there's going to be a lot of content that's very, very current and recruits are going to love it. I think they're going to see what we do at Georgia but maybe see themselves doing it one day. Not only that, this is not going to be a regional network, this is going to be a national network. People and kids from all over the country are going to see what's going on at Georgia and all the rest of the schools in our league."

LSU head coach Les Miles agreed.

"I think it's big for sports fans across the country. They'll get to see these teams matched up in a variety of sports and that's very good," Miles said. "I know most football fans in our state are also baseball fans and they go out to the games, gymnastics meets, whatever. This will be a perfect match."

For SEC newcomer Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M the timing of the new contract with his school's second year as a conference member could not have been better.

"Moving to the SEC was one thing, and the SEC Network takes our conference not only nationally, but visionally nationally. Instead of people thinking we're a regional-type deal in the SEC, this is a network for all of our sports and will showcase them nationally and that's a great deal," Sumlin said. "When I got here, there had always been rumblings, just like everything else, but certainly we knew something was coming. But with the announcement today, now everybody knows where we're headed and what the possibilities are."

Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin says the new network coincides nicely with the job he's trying to do when it comes to growing the Commodore brand.

"It's another opportunity for us to get our message out there and continue to build on the perception that we're changing at Vanderbilt," Franklin said. "Whenever you can give people more access which is what we've been trying to do since we arrived, give people exclusive access to our players and coaches, this is what this network is going to allow us to do. We couldn't be more excited about it and continue to grow our brand."

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