SEC TV Deal Will Be Game-Changer
College baseball fans can watch all the games they can handle this season without ever leaving their homes. With a cable subscription and a broadband internet connection, more than 450 SEC baseball games will be available, and that number will increase as other conferences announce their respective television and online streaming schedules.
ESPN has elevated its television coverage with more than 80 nationally televised SEC games planned across their networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and SEC Network). That’s almost four times as many as last season.
The game-changer, though, is the more than 350 contests available on “SEC Network Plus (+)”, which is accessible on SECNetwork.com and WatchESPN.
“It is something we have looked at for a long time,” Charlie Hussey, the SEC’s Associate Commissioner for SEC Network Relations told D1Baseball.com. “Coverage of baseball I think has always been a little lacking in previous agreements. We finally feel we have an opportunity to showcase the sport and we are doing it now in the appropriate way.”
A fan doesn’t have to be old enough to remember “ludicrous speed” to realize how far the broadcast schedule has come. As recent as 2009, there were just ten nationally televised college baseball games (eight involved SEC teams). In 2010, there were a dozen nationally televised SEC games, and that rose to 18 in 2011 and again in 2012 primarily due to the addition of the ESPNU Thursday night package. That number jumped to 27 in 2013 and settled at 22 SEC games broadcast nationally in 2014. The 80 planned for 2015 demonstrates a significant commitment to a sport that not too long ago was underserved by national networks.
The addition of the SEC Network has replaced much of the regional coverage that was the backbone of SEC television coverage for the last decade.
Hussey explained ESPN now controls television rights to all games played at SEC ballparks. “When we decided to launch the network, the games that were on CSS and were on Fox Sports reverted back to the network,” he said. “There are no other affiliates. SEC baseball will be available only on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, the SEC Network, and SEC Network Plus.”
One casualty due to the emergence SEC Network is the demise of CSS (Comcast Sports South). The network had been a friend to college baseball for many seasons but went off the air last summer. Broadcast regionally through the south, CSS broadcasted 30 SEC games in 2013. Fox Sports Net added 20 more.
For programs like LSU and Arkansas, the schedule sets up so that all of their games, home and away, are slated for broadcast. LSU and Arkansas each had away-from-home games picked up by Regional provider Cox Sports Television. Those games are also expected to be available on WatchESPN.
“All 56 of our games are going to be on TV,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri told D1Baseball.com. “How can you put a price tag on that?
ESPN will also continue to broadcast games from all over country. Alternative networks like Fox Sports Net, FS1, CBS College Sports, and regional networks are expected to televise games from other conferences’ campuses.
“It is just another step in the whole growth of college baseball,” Mainieri explained. “The more people who are exposed to college baseball, the more people will become fans because it is a tremendous product.
“My old coaching line before I came to LSU nine years ago was that I spent 90 percent of my time trying to convince the general public that college baseball was worth your support. At LSU I didn’t have to do that – Skip (Bertman) had already done it – but it is still a challenge nationally.”
The increased exposure should provide another recruiting advantage for programs that already boast some of the best facilities in the sport. Last season, Perfect Game had Arkansas with the top recruiting class in the Nation with Florida, South Carolina, and LSU all in the top five and Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Missouri all in the top 25. Baseball America had LSU first with Florida, Arkansas, and South Carolina all in the top five. Missouri, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State also were in the top 25. With their programs’ increased visibility, they now have another selling point.
Those programs really don’t need another recruiting tool but will certainly use the new television deal as a lure for non-local prospects. Teams like LSU and defending College World Series champion Vanderbilt especially are already recruiting nationally. While each already had streaming video services, the bar has been raised.
“We were selling that fact before the SEC Network because we had the GeauxZone (LSU’s streaming video service),” Mainieri said. “This is going to be better quality. Every game broadcast on ESPN3 will have talent in the booth, graphics on the screen, and a minimum of four cameras. Just like a regular television broadcast. We tell families that they are going to be able to see every game their son plays.”
LSU has players from New Mexico, Illinois, Delaware, and California while Vanderbilt has players from Massachusetts, Oregon, Illinois, California, New York, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
“To a person outside the boundaries of the SEC,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said, “it educates them to the level of baseball that is played in this part of the country but also to the cultures that embrace the sport so deeply.”
Mainieri expressed a similar sentiment. “Now when you have boys up North that dream of playing in the SEC in warm weather and developing their talents in front of big crowds and playing for the national championship, this just negates some of the negative of having to travel to do so,” Mainieri said.
Certainly the players still have to produce once they arrive on campus, but trips to the postseason are made much easier with elite national level talent.
Last season’s ESPN regional coverage featured “Bases Loaded,” a whip-around coverage of all the on-going action. This will be continued this season and have an early bird version on Friday, May 15 on the SEC Network to show the final weekend of conference games.
Not only will the SEC Network feature game coverage but there will also be nightly highlights and plenty of analysis.
“SEC Now is like the conference’s SportsCenter,” Hussey said. “SEC Now will have coverage of all of our sports including baseball. We also plan to have studio shows for baseball. The entire SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover will be on the SEC Network with the exception of the final, which will be on ESPN2. We will support that with a live studio set in Hoover.”
The conference that has played in every College World Series championship series since 2008, winning four of them, has its sights set on another extended postseason run. Now fans across the country can watch each step along way.