EPB, Comcast nearing deals with SEC Network

EPB, Comcast nearing deals with SEC Network

July 11th, 2014 by David Paschall in Sports - College

SEC Southeastern Conference

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With the launch date of the SEC Network essentially a month away, it appears likely that Chattanooga-area EPB and Comcast Xfinity subscribers will be in position to watch all the Southeastern Conference athletics they can stomach.

John Pless of the EPB's marketing department said Thursday that the city-owned provider is on track to make an announcement before the SEC Network's debut on Aug. 14. The SEC Network is scheduled to televise 450 live events a year, including about 45 football games, 100 men's basketball games and 60 women's basketball games.

"We have every reason to believe that we're going to carry that," Pless said. "Our contract with ESPN/Disney/ABC is up for renewal at the end of this month, and it will be renewed. I don't want to announce anything before a contract has been signed, but short of a nuclear disaster, and I say that in jest, it will launch on EPB Fiber Optics on the 14th.

"We actually have two slots right now that have been allocated, one on standard definition and one on high definition. All our ducks are in a row to carry the channel."

FOX Sports reported this week that Comcast was "putting the final touches on its deal with the SEC Network," but Comcast officials are not offering specifics.

"Unfortunately, I'm not able to directly answer all of your questions due to the sensitivity of the topic," said Alex Horwitz, the vice president of public relations for Comcast Big South Region. "We are currently in discussions with the SEC, and our goal is to reach an agreement that is in the best interest of all of our customers."

The SEC Network first reached agreements with Dish Network, which has 14 million subscribers nationally, and AT&T U-verse, which has 4.5 million. ESPN announced this week that Cox Communications had come on board as well.

Cox Communications, which serves more than 6 million businesses and residences, is a broadband communications and entertainment company that provides digital video, Internet and telephone services over its own nationwide IP network. Google Fiber and the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative also are set to carry the SEC Network, which puts it in 27 million homes according to FOX Sports.

FOX Sports reported that adding Comcast would put the SEC Network in 50 million homes, which is roughly half of the total cable and satellite homes in the United States.

Pless said EPB has 59,000 subscribers and should be closer to 60,000 by the launch of the SEC Network. The new network would be rolled into a current sports package that is already an additional service.

"Our customers will not have to pay anything additional to receive it," Pless said.

The SEC Network will televise the Texas A&M at South Carolina football game on Aug. 28 as well as Arkansas at reigning league champion Auburn on Aug. 30. It also will show openers that weekend involving Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Tennessee.

Tennessee is hosting Utah State on Sunday, Aug. 31.

The Sports Business Journal reported earlier this year that the SEC Network will cost $1.30 a month for cable subscribers, or $15.60 annually, in the SEC's 11-state footprint. The SEC Network will cost an extra 25 cents a month outside the league's footprint.

DirecTV announced Thursday that it is having productive discussions with ESPN about carrying the SEC Network but expressed concern with the rising costs.

"Anyone who pays for TV service should have a choice over what teams they want to follow," DirecTV said in a released statement, "and anyone with no interest in sports should not be forced to pay a huge premium for something they don't care to watch. No matter who provides your TV service, the relentlessly rising price of sports has already caused everyone's bill for basic TV to more than double over the past decade.

"In many large cities, the cost for fans to keep the same local teams' games they've always had will double still again between this year and next. Many teams, leagues and conferences will deny their most loyal fans access to games in order to get everyone -- whether you're a fan or not -- to pay the soaring price of admission."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.