The SEC Network will arrive one week ahead of schedule. The launch of the new SEC/ESPN channel has been moved from August 21st to August 14th. Dish Network — who finalized a deal with ESPN’s parent Walt Disney Company earlier this week — had a hand in moving the start-up date.
ESPN’s senior VP of programming Justin Connolly told The Birmingham News:
“I think we looked at it as an opportunity both in consultation with Dish and then generally speaking to provide a little bit longer window of time for consumers and fans who may be making a decision in terms of provider…
As you can expect, we’re king of over the moon to have a national satellite-provider on board five months before launching. It gives us an opportunity to make it clear to others that there’s real value to our distributors and options for consumers, too.”
Another possible motive of this date switch is to put more pressure on those big providers (DirecTV, Comcast/Time Warner) who’ve yet to reach a deal to carry the network. The channel’s first live games (Texas A&M/South Carolina and Vanderbilt/Temple) won’t air until August 28th as initially scheduled, but now SEC fans will have two weeks to “miss” wall-to-wall football programming.
Knowing the fervor that surrounds the kickoff to a football season in the Southeastern Conference, this move is a bit like dangling a bag of weed in front of Willie Nelson for two weeks. Eventually it’s gonna get smoked.
This also allows ESPN to provide more glimpses of the network on the main channel and it allows social media to do its thing. Within seconds of the channel’s launch, those fans with the network will be giving the SEC Network a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Two weeks of such chatter on Twitter and Facebook should help push the interest of SEC fans into the red. If DirecTV, for example, starts seeing customers across the South dump them for Dish Network, DirecTV will likely begin to take negotiations with ESPN a bit more seriously. The same goes for cable-providers if they see clients switching to AT&T U-verse.
Connolly on DirecTV:
“It’s funny, I prefer (fans) talk about (DirecTV discussions with ESPN) because it seems to incite a Twitter riot. We continue to have conversations across the board, including with DirecTV, and they will I’m sure take notice of the deal with Dish.”
They likely will. And the more customers they start to lose to Dish, the more notice they’ll take. We suspect the major carriers will all eventually cut deals with ESPN for the SEC Network. It will likely take a while — perhaps into August — but the odds of the SEC Network not being picked up are slim.
Just be prepared for more back-and-forth stories on this topic all summer long.