The Southeastern Conference's new network debuts today, promising more than 1,000 live events this year and a reach that includes most major television providers in the South.
The network will be welcomed by millions of fans of who can't get enough coverage of the most powerful conference in college sports, and SEC officials think it will increase revenue. Getting the network off the ground — with operations at 14 different campuses — wasn't easy or inexpensive.
Some schools needed to build professional studios, hire a video staff and upgrade stadium and arena TV facilities to accommodate the network, created as a partnership between the SEC and ESPN.
“Each school is in a little different spot coming into this,” SEC associate commissioner for network relations Charlie Hussey said. “A lot of our schools had done a good amount of work already in the infrastructure for this, while others had a little further along to go.”
Each of the 14 SEC representatives must have some sort of studio in place for live interviews that the SEC Network can access from its home base in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The schools also need the necessary equipment for visual production for games, some of which will be televised, others which will be broadcast online.
Florida is among the few schools that already had substantial video departments because of previous investments. Other SEC schools had to spend significantly to prepare for the SEC Network.
Tennessee is constructing a $10 million studio in the first floor of its Brenda Lawson Athletic Center. Athletic department spokesman Jimmy Stanton said the studio is privately funded and will have other university uses beyond the SEC Network, such as training students in television production.
Auburn's athletic department had to use $5 million from its financial reserves, partly to add two control rooms after deciding its one control room at Jordan-Hare Stadium wasn't sufficient. The school also hired nine people in April to form an internal video department.
All the equipment makes it easier for schools to broadcast events themselves, and the SEC Network has guaranteed it will air at least 40 events per school digitally.
For example, South Carolina plans to broadcast about 120 home games of men's and women's soccer, volleyball, men's and women's basketball, baseball and sand volleyball this year.
LSU assistant athletic director Kevin Wagner said his school is spending more than $3 million on cables to connect all of its game venues to a pair of rebuilt control rooms in the athletic administration building.
Eventually, the school also will have to pay for crew members to handle the broadcasts on game days.
Schools say they're comfortable making that investment because of the money and the visibility they're getting from the new network.