Why ESPN Is Betting on College Sports With SEC Network

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Walt Disney (DIS) is upping its bet on live sports with the launch of SEC Network, as the answer to traditional broadcasters’ modern quandary -- the challenge of convincing the on-demand crowd to watch set-time programming.

The ESPN-powered SEC Network, slated to launch tonight, is being seen as a salve to counter general ratings malaise appealing to an audience none so passionate as college sports fans.

The channel, which will broadcast 1,000 live events this season as well as dozens of digital airings, has aligned itself with a powerful collegiate sports union for a 20-year partnership. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) is home to some of the most popular and profitable college football teams, including schools like the University of Alabama, the University of Florida and the rest of the SEC.

University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide, for example, generated $143.7 million in revenue throughout 2013 ($38.9 million from ticket sales and $46 million from licensing), according to NCAA data pulled by USA Today. The team plays in a stadium with a capacity nearly one-third larger certain professional stadiums, like the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home to the Dallas Cowboys.

"The SEC Network is designed to essentially be a ‘must-have’ [regional sports network] for a section of the country which, in general, eschews professional sports in favor of SEC athletics," Topeka Capital analyst David Miller wrote in a research note.

This isn’t the first exclusive regional college sports station to trade on the subculture’s fanaticism. Of the top-five major collegiate sports conferences, two already have a dedicated network: 21st Century Fox-run (FOXA) Big Ten Network (BTN) and the independently-owned Pac-12 Network.

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