Proving that a regional sports network can still obtain major carriage agreements, as long as it has the right audience and the right leverage, the Disney-backed SEC Network will launch nationally on Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) when it debuts August 14.
With the signing of the No. 1 pay TV service, the regional sports network is now distributed in about 46,000 homes. The channel had previously announced deals with Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH), AT&T U-verse (NYSE: T), Cox Communications, Google Fiber (NASDAQ: GOOG) and a range of smaller independent pay TV operators.
Disney still needs to secure licensing agreements with No. 2 provider DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV), as well as Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR).
According to Sports Business Daily, ESPN, which is overseeing the launch of the channel on behalf of corporate parent The Walt Disney Company, is getting carriage fees of about $1.33 per subscriber in the 11 states in which the college sports' Southeastern Conference (SEC) operates. In other areas outside that footprint, the fee is about 25 percent a subscriber.
The move comes as most Dodgers fans in Los Angeles prepare to face the second half of the Major League Baseball season without television access to the team.
Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), which launched SportsNet LA in March on the back of a 25-year, $8 billion agreement with the L.A. Dodgers, has not been able to secure a carriage deal with the market's No. 2 pay TV provider, DirecTV--a pact viewed as necessary for all other MSOs operating in the region to fall in line.
"It is unlikely that we are going to get a deal done," David Rone, president of Time Warner Cable Sports, acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times, in a story headlined "Standoff over Dodgers games could be defining moment in sports TV."
But that "defining moment" theory could just as easily apply to the SEC Network. It proved that if the price is right, the audience is enthusiastic enough, and the network's backer has enough leverage, major carriage for a new regional sports channel is still possible.
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