As the SEC Network works to finish off deals with all of the major cable- and satellite-providers in America, there's a question that no one's asking. Will the new channel be a great thing for SEC schools' exposure right off the bat?
Hey, there's no denying that the league and its schools will rake in millions upon millions of dollars from the network. By placing three football games on the channel most weekends, there will also be plenty of reasons for viewers to seek out the new channel. Constant promotion from network co-founder ESPN will help as well.
But outside the SEC footprint will the network provide the same exposure that CBS, ESPN or ESPN2 would? No.
Take yourself out of the equation. If you're reading this site, you're obviously an SEC fan. You probably live within the league's 11-state region, too. That means that on Comcast, for example, the SEC Network will be on your expanded basic tier. It will be easy to find, mixed in with many of America's most-watched channels. Outside the SEC footprint -- where Comcast subscribers will pay just 25 cents per month for the channel, compared with $1.40 a month inside the footprint -- the SEC Network will be placed on digital basic.
In the short term, it's quite possible that folks outside the SEC footprint won't immediately know just where the heck to find the channel on their system. And many viewers simply are already in the habit of flipping their way through ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU on Saturday nights. Even FOX has had a hard time challenging the ESPN family's nighttime ratings with its relatively new nationally-broadcast primtime games. What chance then will the SEC Network have of drawing in outsiders who aren't used to going to that channel?
How many of you know where the Big Ten Network is on your system? Would you be more likely to watch a Big Ten game airing on the BTN or one airing on ABC?
Again, SEC fans will know by heart exactly where their new favorite channel is located. Since most SEC schools recruit at home, most of their high school targets will likely know where to find SEC games, too. Plus and plus.
But if you think an Auburn/LSU game on the SEC Network will pull the same kind of national overnight ratings that it would airing on ESPN, you're loopy. It will take time for viewers outside the SEC footprint to get used to searching out the SEC Network. And unless the net is butted up against ESPN, ESPN2 and other major sports channels on providers' basic tiers, it's unlikely games on the league-specific network will ever draw the total number of eyeballs as games airing on one of the major national networks.
We're not saying the SEC Network is a mistake. It will bring in millions of dollars for all involved. It will give the SEC a 24-hour commercial for itself, 365 days a year. But national exposure in the short-term -- even with ESPN touting the channel -- should be expected to take a slight hit.
There's a reason Comcast is charging subscribers in the Southeast $1.40 and folks outside the South just 25 cents. Folks outside the league footprint aren't lusting for the channel. Which means some star prospects in Chicago or Los Angeles or Ohio probably won't be as likely to watch an SEC game aired on the SEC Network as they would an SEC game aired on the ESPN family of networks. The SEC will still have games that air on the ESPNs, too, of course. But any schools whose games are moved to the SEC Network -- at least in the early going -- won't get the kind of national exposure they would if their games aired on ESPN or ESPN2.
Regardless of how many households the SEC reaches at launch, it won't be on equal footing ratings-wise with the channels that have spent the last 20-30 years broadcasting primetime football games.