At LSU, Kevin Wagner has spent his summer ripping out old TV production equipment, fitting out two control rooms with state-of-the-art gear and installing a new TV studio that can be remote-controlled from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
It’s all in preparation for the SEC Network, the highly anticipated channel that will broadcast Southeastern Conference sports, news and features around the clock and mean untold millions in profits for the league and its 14-member schools.
As in most investment scenarios, you have to spend money to make money.
In LSU’s case, it’s an investment of just over $2 million in high-definition TV cameras, graphics packages and fiber optic cable that will wire all of LSU’s sports venues to the control rooms on the fifth floor of the athletic administration building.
From there, LSU can beam 40 to 120 events annually to SEC Network control in Charlotte, North Carolina, or to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut (ESPN is distributing and managing the network).
LSU will be responsible for producing those games which all will be shown online.
“The events we’re responsible for aren’t replacing what we’re already doing,” said Wagner, whose department was already handling the video fans see on replay screens in Tiger Stadium, the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and Alex Box Stadium.
“This is coming in on top of that. We have to continue to do video boards, so to do that and the SEC Network productions we had to have two control rooms. We completely gutted our old control room and upgraded just about everything and turned it into two control rooms.
“Now we can do a video board production in the PMAC and at the same time do an SEC Network production from say softball or baseball. We can do two SEC Network events simultaneously, if they ever call for that, which they might.”
Though some estimates say the SEC Network could eventually be worth $14 million per year per school, for the 2014-15 fiscal year LSU is banking on little if any return.
In terms of LSU’s record $109 million athletic budget for 2014-15, the school is mainly hoping to recoup its SEC Network outlay according to Mark Ewing, the athletic department’s chief financial officer.
“That would be nice,” Ewing said. “You would hope to at least get back what we invested in it.”
Though there is excitement surrounding the launch of the SEC Network, there will also be a period of adjustment for fans, Wagner said.
Through the SEC Network, ESPN purchased all of the SEC’s TV rights.
That means no football games on TigerVision. No games on Cox Sports Television, which televised 20 baseball games in 2014 and Sunday night football replays. Not even any live TV events on LSUSports.net’s Geaux Zone, which can still carry radio broadcasts and recorded features.
A sport like baseball is expected to be a particular sore spot for LSU fans accustomed to clicking on their TVs and finding a game.
Thirty of LSU’s 56 regular-season games were televised on one network or another. Though some games could still be on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU, and the SEC Network has committed to showing 75 games during the season, it’s highly unlikely that many LSU baseball games will be on TV.
The difference, Wagner said, will likely be made up online via WatchESPN, ESPN3 and apps for mobile devices.
“To some extent, at least early on, it’s going to be disappointing to some of our fans,” Wagner said. “I think it already is, because all they see is, ‘So, none of these events are going to be on CST anymore?’ They’re not. ESPN bought the rights to all of that — paid good money for it.
“But like a lot of change we’ve seen over the years, once they understand how it works and where they can go in their home or on their device wherever they may be to get what they want to get, I think a lot of that (discontent) will settle down.”
LSU’s first football game on the SEC Network is its Sept. 6 home opener with Sam Houston State, which will be done by ESPN bringing in a traditional TV crew.
The first game LSU is scheduled to produce is a Sept. 26 home soccer match against Texas A&M, though Wagner said he may opt to put on one or two earlier events.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.