Byrne Says SEC-ESPN Pact "A Big Deal"

That's not a cowbell ringing around the Bryan Building today. It's the cash register, as Mississippi State's athletic administration cheers the landmark partnership extension and expansion announced today by the Southeastern Conference and ESPN. "This is a big deal for Mississippi State, and a big deal for the SEC," said MSU athletic director Greg Byrne.

A very big deal, as the SEC and ESPN have signed up for 15 more years starting with the 2009-10 school year. The pact carries each party through 2023-34, and comes shortly after the conference renewed it's deal with CBS for a similar span. CBS will continue to be the ‘lead' network as far as having first choice of SEC football games, and will carry the league's Championship Game.

But in sheer volume of content that pales beside what ESPN, through its total of a dozen outlets on-air, on-line, or both will put out for public consumption. An estimated 5,500 SEC sporting events will be broadcast in some capacity when this contract goes into effect, from August volleyball to June baseball and track.

More to MSU's immediate point of view is the financial boost that will begin in 2010. Byrne said the SEC has asked no specific dollar figures be released by any official party just yet. Still his excitement is obvious about all implications of this extended, expanded arrangement with self-proclaimed ‘the world-wide leader.'

"It's great for us from a coverage standpoint," Byrne said. "It's great for us athletically, and also academically. It's some good windows out there to promote the University. And obviously it gives Mississippi State an opportunity for coverage it hasn't had before. It also gives us a financial arrangement that will continue to grow our budget and be competitive in the SEC, and nationally."

Outside sources are projecting anywhere from six to ten million more dollars now going to every SEC institution, figures Byrne would not comment on. Any of those figures, by whatever measure, will do long-term wonders for Bulldog budgeting. As well as put all State teams on the tube somewhere, sometime, some channel. Particularly the two heavyweights.

"Every home football game and every SEC football game will be covered through the ESPN platforms or CBS," Byrne said. "Every football game will be televised and ‘branded' for us." The only potential conflicts come when State, or any SEC program, plays a non-league game at an opponent whose league has another network tie. Even then, Byrne says the ‘Notre Dame' practice NBC has that allows their exclusive property to show on, say, ABC will keep State on the air.

And, "Every SEC men's basketball game is guaranteed. Not every non-conference game is guaranteed." This is where the SEC-ESPN deal meets State's exclusive Maroon to the Max outlet options. "There are a couple of different ‘streaming' opportunities," Byrne said, adding that the ‘360' technology ESPN has will be used. "The league will control the copyright of games, so we're still not 100% sure how it affects Maroon to the Max. The conference will have first rights to streaming baseball."

More than sports is involved in this deal. "There's going to be an on-line SEC academic network," Byrne said. "There will also be two one-hour programs dedicated to academic accomplishments of SEC athletes each year. And an annual ‘campus connection' telecast at each SEC institution." ESPN will also help with an internship program for one student from each SEC school.

The timing of this contract, in which former State A.D. Larry Templeton played a significant part, is doubly-interesting. Not only does it come after signing CBS to the 15-year extension, but this deal effectively puts to rest plans for any exclusive SEC network as had been considered.

"Once everybody saw what the package was offering, it trumped the SEC channel," Byrne said. "Because of the penetration ESPN already has across the country, and ESPNU continues to add to their footprint, as does ESPN Classic." Not to mention ESPN Regional Television, ESPN360.com, ESPN Mobile TV, ESPN GamePlan, ESPN FULL COURT, ESPN International, and ESPN Deportes. Yes, the SEC is headed south of the border in a big way.

Though the first checks from this pact won't arrive for another two years, knowing that more revenue is on the way aids Byrne and Mississippi State when it comes to long-range planning. Where the recently-signed broadcast and marketing deal with Learfield helped Byrne solve some immediate issues in regard to contracts, now he can also think farther ahead to future needs and wants.

In fact, "We're working on our master plan," Byrne said. "We're going to put together how we would like to use the money between budget enhancement and all the issues we face. Salaries, facilities, travel costs, tuition increases, energy costs, just like every organization. And obviously there will be needs in all those areas that money certainly can go towards."

Of course reading of this deal is sure to have Byrne's coaches coming by the office with bright new ideas for their own programs, now that the money is secured. Byrne is ready for them. "I've never met a coach that is satisfied with what they have!" he laughs. "Because they're competitive people and want to do better. If a coach stops asking that's when you get more concerned!"

Seriously, though, "We're working on plans as we speak on what our facility priorities are going to be and what our budgetary priorities are going to be. We're going to work with the University in developing those plans so everybody knows what each other is doing."


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