Lights, camera, Auburn: Tigers gear up for SEC Network

March 12, 2014

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Auburn will add another mission control room to produce programming for the SEC Network

By Charles Goldberg
AuburnTigers.com 

AUBURN, Ala. -- Walls are going up. Walls are coming down. Welcome to where Auburn is building the control room that will contribute to the new SEC Network, a venture that will hit your TV and laptop on Aug. 14, providing your network provider is signed up. 

The SEC Network promises to air more than 1,000 live events in the first year, including 45 football games, in a massive undertaking between the conference and ESPN that has all 14 conference schools rushing to flip the switch. Auburn will spend approximately $3 million to make it happen with an outlay for the control room, cameras, on-air talent and new fiber running to almost every sporting venue on campus. 

"It's a big undertaking. It's exciting," said Scott Carr, Auburn's Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs.

The days of an SEC game showing up on a local TV station or spread among various networks are almost done. Only the ESPN networks, its SEC Network or CBS will televise conference football games next year. Other sports will be limited to ESPN or the SEC Network. The SEC Network programming will either be televised or available on the Internet. 

Want to watch, say, 14 different SEC baseball games on an early-season Saturday? It's possible. Want to tune in to more softball, volleyball, soccer and almost every other sport? Fire up the TV or Internet. 

Auburn's view is this: It's a chance to showcase more teams and athletes, a chance to help recruiting, an opportunity to use the venture as a learning experience for students interested in communications. 

"We have the ability to showcase other sports and develop talent on campus as actual announce crews and behind-the-scenes crews as well," says Cassie Arner, the Assistant Athletic Director for Public Relations who is helping to organize Auburn's network efforts. "A big initiative of ours is not only to get our full-time staff ready, but also try to make this part of the academic curriculum as well. The people of over at the School of Communication and Journalism have really done a lot in the past year and a half to increase the cache of that program, and we're hoping this will help, because it provides more hands-on instruction and gives students a portfolio they can leave with." 

One of the questions is will fans be able to see all their good work around the conference. Only AT&T U-verse and Dish satellite have signed up so far. The SEC is hoping fans will ask other cable and satellite providers to sign up, too.

Here's the SEC Network webpage designed to help viewers determine if they'll receive the new network and what to do if they don't.

The SEC Network says it will televise 450 events to TV. It will provide at least 550 events straight to the Internet. 

"They're guaranteeing that," Carr said. 

But the SEC Network will likely provide more. Each SEC school must provide at least 40 digital live events, but Auburn says it will likely do 40-60 more. Other schools could follow. ESPN will reimburse the school for up to 30 of those broadcasts if they meet the network's standards. 

The SEC Network will make its first big splash when it televises the conference's first football game of the season: Texas A&M and South Carolina. Other possible games, although nothing has been announced, include Auburn's season-opener at home against Arkansas two days later. At the very least, the SEC Network's new on-campus pregame show will be on the Auburn campus.

 There are the 45 football games. And lots more men's basketball games. The challenge will be how to televise all the games live on the SEC Network or ESPN. Most conference basketball games are now played on Wednesdays and Saturdays. That could change. The new network also plans to televise 60 women's basketball games, 75 baseball games and many more games featuring other sports. 

Auburn has experience. There's been a control room in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The university has used two video teams to show live action on video boards and campus TV, plus the production of coaches' shows and post-game productions. Those video teams will be brought into the university as one unit for the SEC Network as well as much of their post-production work. 

Major sports will go all out. But other events that once had two-camera shoots will have four. There will be separate announcers, too. There will be SEC Network graphics. Auburn will provide the on-air talent for the Internet broadcasts. The SEC Network will provide the talent for televised events. Auburn has hired an assistant athletics director to run the operation.  

Auburn expects to have a full-time staff of eight, 10-12 freelancers and 40 students working on campus to provide content.

"A lot of times you'll see students doing what professionals do in TV studios," Arner said. 

Auburn will be able to televise two events at the same time, and more each day when there is not a time conflict. 

SEC schools are expecting to get their initial expenditures back once the SEC Network begins distributing money over the next few years. 

"We'll get that money back," Carr said. 

Auburn has been spending for video, anyway. 

"We're currently paying two outside parties to do our videos, so when we end those contracts, the money that has been budgeted to pay those two entities will now be used to run the internal video department. The forecast will either be expense neutral or save money annually on the in-house video department," Carr said. 

The SEC Network has visited all 14 conference schools to make sure everybody will be ready for the August launch. 

"A lot of schools are making sizable investments because they know the exposure itself is worth the investment," Arner said.

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: