Project X finally has a name.
The only X-factor remaining is just exactly how much the SEC Network will be worth to the Southeastern Conference when it starts beaming its signal to the world in August 2014.
There will be money. Avalanche-threatening stacks of it. The SEC is already awash in cash like some geographically estranged OPEC member, each school pocketing a record $20.1 million in conference and NCAA revenue last year. Some estimates say the network will be worth an additional $14 million per campus.
What will the LSUs and Alabamas and Floridas of the world buy that they don’t already have or need?
A solid gold fence for Mike the Tiger’s habitat? Solid gold teeth for Nick Saban? Mississippi State could to send every child in Mississippi a golden cowbell. (What a recruiting tool.)
While the SEC looked for a while like it was falling behind the Big Ten and Pac-12, it was really biding its time. Waiting to analyze the mistakes others made, figuring out which missteps to avoid.
Perhaps the biggest one was not to incur any costs that aren’t necessary. Got to maximize those profits.
“ESPN has everything in place,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said. “They’ve got all the fixed costs associated with starting a network. The Big Ten had to make a huge investment in cameras and trucks. We didn’t have any of that. We’re tied in with a partner that is already established and will have leverage when they go out and sell the network.”
ESPN’s clout means when the network arrives 16 months from now you can pretty much bank on it being carried from the opening tip on Cox and TimeWarner and DirecTV. That wasn’t the case for the Big Ten Network, said LSU professor of sports management Brian Soebbing.
“I was living in Canada at the time (the Big Ten Network began) and got it in Canada, but my folks living back in Illinois did not because of the fees they were charging,” he said.
Don’t expect such problems across the SEC’s 11-state footprint. Any cable system in Baton Rouge or Birmingham or Bristol, Tenn., is likely to have its offices pelted with old VHS tapes if it fails to show one of the home state team’s football games.
Nationwide distribution is potentially another matter, Soebbing said.
“In terms of taking it national, the struggle for the Big Ten early was they charged high premiums for putting it on,” he said. “Will they price it equal to or lower than the Big Ten? But given the success (the SEC) is having in athletics as a whole, I don’t see any limitations of it being national.”
“I think there will be a kid in Pennsylvania who will be able to watch it — not just a football player, but a gymnast or a track athlete — and fall in love with LSU,” said Alleva, a Pennsylvania-educated kid himself.
A 24/7 ATM and recruiting advertorial, this SEC Network. There’s no way to measure the worth of Project X to the SEC in terms of that.