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January 22, 2014
Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

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Aggies, SEC fans called on to support one-of-a-kind SEC Network

by Homer Jacobs
12th Man Magazine

The anticipation for Texas A&M and SEC fans will be building—as usual—throughout the spring and summer months for the start of the 2014 football season.

After all, there is the new College Football Playoff to consider, as well as life after Johnny Manziel.

But August will bring the dawn of another era, one that could catapult the conference and its 14 member schools into an uncharted and unrivaled stratosphere of media exposure and financial gain.

The SEC Network, a groundbreaking and collaborative effort with ESPN, will launch in August as the conference truly branches out and expands its brand from coast to coast.

“College football has become a national sport, the SEC is a national brand and this is an opportunity to develop that brand all the way across the country,” said A&M Director of Athletics Eric Hyman. “We know the impact of the SEC footprints, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to expand all across the country.

“This is nationally based. For A&M, there is a lot of dynamic, positive energy that’s taking place at this university and this is an opportunity to springboard that information all the way across the country.”

"It’s going to be a new day for Texas A&M, and another chapter in growing our national brand."

- Jason Cook, A&M Senior Associate AD

Indeed, the SEC Network is lighting up its marquee in maroon, as the Aggies and South Carolina Gamecocks will help launch the network in a made-for-conference-TV primetime football game on Aug. 28.

The first of approximate 45 live football games during 2014 will air from Columbia, S.C. on that Thursday night, with more than 1,000 live sporting events set for airing throughout the athletic year on the SEC Network. In addition to the 45 football games, more than 100 men’s basketball games, 60 women’s basketball games and hundreds more from all 21 SEC-sponsored sports will be broadcast on a national scale…assuming cable and satellite providers feel the demand to ensure the supply.

That’s why the SEC is calling on all Aggies…and Tigers…and Bulldogs to make the network a national success.

“We can’t leave it to chance that, oh, the SEC Network is going to happen,” says Jason Cook, A&M’s senior associate athletic director for external affairs. “We have to take action. We need to get our donors and fans to go to and register their interests. It’s going to be crunch time when we hit August…there’s going to be some (carriers) that will hold out to the last minute to test the resolve the SEC has and to test the demand for fans to watch the network.

“We know we are the first football game to air on the SEC Network, and I think the Aggies need to realize that the SEC Network is the only way you’re going to be able to watch Texas A&M at South Carolina on television. We don’t want to be alarmists, but I don’t want to leave the situation in anyone else’s hands.”

The SEC Network will be distributed along three different tiers, including the linear version (television), digital option (tablets, mobile phones, etc.) and through live streaming (institutional websites).

To make all three tiers work for Texas A&M fans, the athletic department is making a huge financial commitment, laying miles of fiber optics to link all the Aggie athletic venues to its new state-of-the-art 12th Man Productions studio that will soon reside in the south end zone of the redeveloped Kyle Field.

Thanks to a $12 million commitment from the 12th Man Foundation as part of the redevelopment funds, the new studio will be a one-of-a-kind facility on a college campus.

“The investment that we’re making at Texas A&M is we want all of our content to be on the linear network,” Cook said. “We want to be able to be seen on your cable or satellite providers. We are building a facility with two television studios, a radio studio, three control rooms and six edit bays.

“This is the largest collegiate or professional video project in the country right now. We’re making that investment because we made the move to the SEC to increase our brand visibility, and the SEC Network is the next chapter of that.”

Not only will A&M be able to produce high-end content because of its facility but also once the content reaches the SEC Network level, the quality of the product and its distribution will be unparalleled for a collegiate network.

ESPN plans to commit resources to the new network like it has with its other projects, including basing the network out of its ESPNU studios in Charlotte, N.C. The Worldwide Leader in Sports has announced its early talent lineup with SEC radio icon Paul Finebaum hosting a daily afternoon show, while ESPN college football announcer Joe Tessitore and former Florida quarterbacking legend Tim Tebow will anchor a preview show each Saturday from a different SEC campus in the fall.

“In some ways it sounds like College GameDay, but I think we’re going to do it a lot different from College GameDay,” said Justin Connolly, ESPN’s senior vice president in charge of college networks. “If we can borrow the best from what exists across each ESPN network and we can mix in the authenticity that moves across the 14 campuses, this product will be different from anything we have today. And yet it will live up to the ESPN-type quality and standards.

“To zero in on that idea of providing such a passionate fan base with a product that they like and that they take pride in, that’s really the aim and goal here. I think we are building something that hopefully lives up to and exceeds that standard among those fans.”

"...on the exposure side, I think it could be a game-changer."

- Justin Connolly, ESPN Senior Vice President

Connolly would not divulge just how lucrative the SEC Network could become for its 14 member schools. But some estimates have the SEC Network financials soaring past the revenue numbers that the two other successful conference networks from the Pac 12 and Big Ten have realized over the past few years.

The main differentiation between the SEC Network and others, however, is the national scope and possibility for exposure of the project.

The SEC is already the most popular collegiate athletic conference in the country in terms of television viewers (Alabama and A&M were the two most viewed football teams in 2013, according to Sports Media Watch), with an average of 3.8 million viewers tuning in to watch SEC action each Saturday. That number was almost twice as much as the nearest conference average rating and two-and-half times as much for the Aggies’ former home, the Big 12.

“The play in the SEC attracts attention across the country, and ESPN is the primary rights holder for the SEC and so we have the ability to put on compelling matchups every single week of the season,” Connolly added. “And that’s every season. We’re going to open up with Texas A&M and South Carolina on the 28th of August, and the only way to see that game is to have the SEC Network or if you’re in the stadium at South Carolina. That type of partnership and that willingness to taking an event like that and put it on the network really speaks to how serious we are about making this a compelling network that will rival or exceed anything that’s been out there before.

“And on the exposure side, I think it could be a game-changer. When we’re talking about exposure, it’s really for all 21 sports that are sponsored by the SEC and taking soccer, volleyball, softball, baseball in addition to men’s and women’s basketball and football and making it available from the corner of Oregon to the southern tip of Florida.”

Aggie fans are obviously well aware of the criticism Longhorn Network has received, but although ESPN runs LHN, don’t expect a lack of cable carriers for the SEC Network or a lack of quality programming.

The SEC Network won’t hide unappealing games on its network, saving only the best matchups for the CBS afternoon window or the ESPN primetime broadcast. With A&M-South Carolina leading the way, it’s conceivable a top-ranked Alabama battling rival Tennessee could be broadcast on the SEC Network, as well.

And certainly big basketball games, baseball and softball series and SEC championships will fill the 24-hour lineup.

If only Manziel had returned for his junior season to kick off the coverage in 2014.

“I was out at the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena, and I saw him standing on the sideline prior to the game,” Connolly said with a laugh. “And I went over and introduced myself and as I was walking away the guy next to me said, ‘Hey, did you ask him if he’d play one more game in the SEC because that game would be the A&M-South Carolina game.’ I didn’t ask him but it would have been great had he decided to do that.

“But on the distributors’ side, we already have ATT U-verse as the charter distributor and that’s eight months in advance of launch, which is proof that there is a compelling value proposition for distributors. I think the SEC is a pretty unique league and partner for us. This will be the third conference network across the country, but at the same time I think the fan base and the passion that lives in the SEC would eclipse any other fan base out there.”

Surely the Aggie fan base will be excited about the venture, as Texas A&M is in the midst of perhaps its most golden and emboldened era in school history.

The Aggies reside in the nation’s premier athletic conference, have recently received record donations both academically and athletically and are undertaking the most comprehensive stadium redevelopment in collegiate sports history.

It’s only natural that a new national platform is being unveiled with the launch of the SEC Network…making its first big splash with a primetime football game between Texas A&M and South Carolina.

“It’s going to be a new day for Texas A&M,” Cook added, “and another chapter in growing our national brand.” 

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