COMMISSIONER SLIVE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for coming. We really appreciate it. We thought since most of you were going to be here for the game tomorrow it might give us a chance to give you sort of an inside look at the evolution and the development of a network such as the SEC Network. We were back here in May, I think you all remember when we did the announcement, we had all of our coaches here and a lot has happened since that time. So we just thought we’d take advantage of having you here, having a nice lunch when we’re done and give you a chance to hear from Justin and Stephanie and a few other folks about where we are.
Just parenthetically, just another SEC regular, exciting, and very predictable football season. All of those who predicted that Missouri and Auburn would be in this game, would you raise your hand? We’ve got a lot of honest people in the audience here.
As we think about the network, I think about it in terms of three components, really. One, I think about it in terms of live events, which is obviously live events are the heart and soul of a network like this, and we’re going to have over 1,000 of those in our first year. Then there is studio coverage: News, information, preparation, setting the stage, that’s part two, then, finally, for us particularly, is telling the story – the storytelling of the Southeastern Conference.
We’re approaching our 80th year as a conference. Obviously, we’ve expanded some. Most recently a year or so ago, and there are so many stories to tell. So you can assume that you’ll be able to engage not only in the future of the SEC but in its glorious past.
So I think with that, what we want to do is I want to turn it over to Justin to give you some insight. Justin is (Senior) Vice President at ESPN, but we like to think about Justin more as the CEO and President of the SEC Network. So Justin, it’s all yours.
JUSTIN CONNOLLY: Thanks, Commissioner. I love every time we sit next to each other you inflate my title, but I do love it. I appreciate it, thank you.
A critical piece the commissioner mentioned; three elements to building a compelling network. I’d add something to that, and that is people. It takes a lot of terrific people to make the network come together, and we’re in the early phases of doing some hiring. But we have had two critical additions to the team so far. One, on behalf of the conference, Charlie Hussey has been named on behalf of the conference dedicated to television and the network, and has been an incredible addition.
On our side, I want to introduce you to Stephanie Druley. Stephanie oversees production for all things SEC Network, and there is no one who could be better in this role. Stephanie has worked on every high‑profile property at ESPN. She has a trophy case of Emmy Awards that would rival what’s been won by the SEC on the playing fields each year.
She’s been recognized for her work when she oversaw all studio content related to the NFL for ESPN, including Super Bowl productions. In addition to that, extensive work on college sports, and also oversaw the production of Sportscenter for a time at ESPN.
I think most notably for those who know the “My Wish” segment feature on Sportscenter, the kind of tear‑jerking segments of young kids who are facing life‑threatening diseases or conditions, Stephanie is really the author and creator of those. And we’re taking Stephanie’s talents and dedicating them 100% to the SEC Network now. So I want to turn it over to Stephanie and let her update you on some of the key production milestones here.
STEPHANIE DRULEY: The commissioner inflated your title, you inflated my ego, so thank you, Justin. We’re very excited as we’re sitting here ready to wrap up the SEC football season. We’re very excited about what next year has in store. It’s going to be exciting year, and football is going to be a big thing for us, and Saturdays are going to be very exciting.
I’m very happy to be able to announce we’ll be doing a live two‑hour road show pregame every Saturday from a different campus. “SEC Nation” is the title, and it will air every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon ET.
ESPN has really set the standard for pre‑game shows across all sports. In the college space we certainly own that with “College Gameday” and what they’ve achieved.
On “SEC Nation” we’ll try to be a little different. The thing that’s unique about the SEC as all of you know is what the pregame experience is, and we want to take people into that. We want people at home to feel like I’ve been ‑‑ I’ve been there even though I haven’t. Because there is nothing like it: The sights, the sounds, the feeling of family. So we want to go where these traditions already exist and be part of it, be a part of the atmosphere.
If we haven’t made everybody at home feel like they’ve actually been to The Grove, or been To the Quad, or been at LSU, then we haven’t met our goal. So that’s going to be the goal of our show.
I’m extremely happy and privileged to tell you that Joe Tessitore will be the host for our journey every Saturday. Joe is our resident Heisman‑ologist this time of year, and he’s established himself as one of the distinct play‑by‑play voices across ESPN on our BCS coverage as well as during the regular season. He’s also the elite host of College Football Live, so we are really lucky to have him. He’s very passionate about the conference.
Joe hosted our week‑long SportsCenter media days for football this past summer, but his roots go a little deeper than that. In 2011 he was the executive producer and creator of the critically acclaimed, highly‑rated, award winning, “30 for 30” documenting “Roll Tide/War Eagle,” and was a producer on the “Bo Knows” documentary.
So Joe comes with a lot of passion for the conference, and he’s called some pretty memorable games. Joe was there for LSU’s over the shoulder fake field goal at the swamp. This year he was there for South Carolina’s two overtime win at Missouri. So we are extremely thrilled to have him join us. So let me introduce you to Joe Tessitore.
JOE TESSITORE: Thank you, Stephanie. If only my wife and kids would speak of me so kindly as I make my Price is Right entrance.
Hi everybody, I’m honored to be here.
Commissioner, congratulations on another outstanding season, and congratulations on what we hope will make you very proud in the coming years, and that’s what we intend to do. I can tell it’s just another very understated SEC media event. We couldn’t get the full 1200 credentialed that were surrounding me behind Johnny Manziel. This is so impressive. Only this conference Friday morning to talk about this could have this kind of a turnout.
Stephanie, thank you so much with your leadership, and Justin, I know this is going to be a grand slam for everybody involved.
Listen, I’ve been blessed to cover so many major events so so many platforms throughout my career, and I can honestly tell you in all my years of broadcasting, no matter what the sport is, the event, the league, I can honestly say in assessing it all, when I’m sitting up there on a Saturday night next to Matt Millen and I’m just taking it all in week after week, that nothing compared to the purely unbridled passion, the rich tradition, and really an authentic intensity of SEC football. Absolutely nothing compares, and there was no decision to make here when the opportunity came up.
When I heard that we were launching the network with Mike and the SEC, I knew instantly this is where I wanted to be and this is what I wanted to make this part of my career all about. I did turn for some advice though. I turned to my friend Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs. And Jay recently told me, “Joe, it would be un‑American to snub the SEC.” So I said, yes, and I’m glad I did.
What Steph said about our plan for covering this league is dead on. We’re going to cover the energy, the atmosphere, and document what I feel are the most ready‑made story lines, and really weave ourselves into the fabric of this conference, and that is really all that’s needed because this conference has the best story lines.
If you follow it closely enough, you’ll probably realize it’s probably the greatest soap opera in all of sports. You have the characters, the stories, the ups and downs. There is no off‑season in the SEC, we have found that out through the years. This is the strongest conference in College Football. And it’s not because of seven straight BCS titles. It’s because of what it is from top to bottom.
It’s because it’s the only conference, and it’s the only league ‑‑ and I mean even professional leagues that proves that you don’t know when the bottom is going to instantly become the top. I think we have a great celebration of that here this weekend with Auburn and Mizzou to see who is No. 1. So I congratulate both teams for arriving here. And Mike Alden, and Jay Jacobs, and the coaching staffs as well.
I think it’s pretty simple. You have some really talented TV people to my right here that are going to make a difference. “SEC Nation” is going to be very good TV, and here’s why: What I have found out through my career is that good television has a lot of truth to it. It has sincerity. There is nothing fake or contrived when it comes to good television production. That’s what the SEC is all about. The SEC embraces its identity. There is nothing fake about the SEC.
This league is one with its fans. Its fans are more loyal and more deeply invested than any fans any of us have ever come along. So “SEC Nation” is going to serve those fans. We’re going to give the rest of the country, because the whole country is going to end up with this thing. We’re determined of that. We’re going to give the rest of the country what we keep finding out more and more, that SEC football is irresistibly attractive.
So I’m happy to talk to any of you after the fact. I’ll be off to the side, you can grab my cell phone, my email; we’ll talk SEC football and talk about the plans for the future. I am truly honored to be in front of all of you and to be with this group and, Commissioner, to make you very proud and make this happen for you.
STEPHANIE DRULEY: Thank you, Joe. So we’re going to harness Joe’s passion, and the passion of the fans. We’ll talk Xs and Os. We’ll break down, we’ll tell stories and get into the culture that is the SEC and what makes it so special. Are you ready for your first assignment?
JOE TESSITORE: What is it? Where are we?
STEPHANIE DRULEY: January 28, that is a third ‑‑ I’m sorry, August. Man, it would be cold in January. I know you’re there. We’re going to get early rehearsals in in January.
August 28th, Thursday night, Columbia, our lead‑in to our exclusive coverage of Texas A&M and South Carolina. But we’re not through yet. Two days later we’ll debut on Saturday, August 30th from Auburn; Arkansas and Auburn is the game that day and we are very excited to be there.
We do have some more talent to fill out between the shows we’re doing. Joe needs a cast of characters to join him on the road, and we have 450 events, so we have a lot more hiring to do, and we hope to have some more announcements shortly after the BCS Championship.
So we’re taking our show on the road. Our home base is Charlotte, North Carolina, as has been previously announced, and that facility is being expanded for us and, in fact, construction on a new SEC studio or the first ever, I guess, SEC studio will start next week. With that, I’m giving it back to Ms. Potts, because we have a lot of work to do.
KERI POTTS: We do, and I look forward to working with you on more announcements and welcome, Joe. And I’ll turn the floor back over to the commissioner. He’s got some more programming announcements for you.
COMMISSIONER SLIVE: I think we’ve covered the information, the news, the coverage of our games. That leaves two categories yet to discuss, and I’ll be brief.
First, the live events. The live events. For those of you who have followed the development of the network, you know that in our first year we’ll put on 450 live events on television, and a minimum of 550 events on the accompanying digital network.
Our institutions are all in the process of developing the appropriate production technology. And we’ll put on every event that each of our institutions produces in addition to the 550 that we’re going to put on the digital network.
So as Justin has said from the very beginning, 1,000 is just our floor, and we even hope to exceed that as early as our first year.
So we previously announced the opening game, which is obviously A&M and South Carolina, a game of national interest on August 28th. And parenthetically here, one of the things that’s always intrigued me about our relationship and partnership with ESPN is simply that because of our relationship, they, being our primary rights holder, we have the ability to move games between platforms. Whether the game is on ESPN, or ESPN2, or ESPNU or on the SEC Network, we’ll have the ability to flow games of interest between the four platforms.
So we’ve decided that since we have another game that Thursday night, we have Temple at Vanderbilt, we’re going to have a doubleheader Thursday night as we open on the 28th. So we’ll have A&M at South Carolina and Temple at Vanderbilt, and that will be the first time any conference network has put on a doubleheader in primetime with three teams that have been in bowls. So that’s just the beginning. Then we’ll have three games on Saturday.
So in a span of two days or three days, we’ll have five football games on the SEC Network, and then a triple‑header every Saturday thereafter. Our goal is to get somewhere close to 45 football games on the network each fall. I won’t go into all the other sports, but I think you know that we’re talking about a lot of appearances in all of our sports.
So that is the live events side, at least as we open, and we’re excited about that. Then that moves us to the story telling, which is something I personally ‑‑ you know, I’ve been in the SEC 12 years and never get tired of hearing the stories and watching the legends.
Those of you who have been around us for a while know that in September of 2011 we initiated something called SEC Storied, and you may remember that the first one was about Hershel. We decided to do four a year, and we’ve done a lot since. Some of you have seen them. We’ve done them on Hershel, Lolo Jones, the tornado here, and those of you who have followed us, then of course the most recent one, which was outstanding is the “Book of Manning”. That is the nature of what we’re doing. So we’ve been doing four a year.
We’re going to go from four to ten, and that is a big bite. We’ll go from four to ten a year, and we’ll debut six of the ten on the network, and we’ll debut the other four on ESPNU, and then move it over to the network. So that rounds out, at least for me, the storytelling.
You know, it celebrates great games, great athletes, and great moments. And the next film in the series will be of interest to all of you, but particularly to our friends from Auburn, and it’s going to be entitled “Bo, Barkley and the Big Hurt,” and that will debut on ESPNU on February 24th at 9 p.m. ET.
We’re also working on one in production with a working title of “Super Fans” that will explore the rituals, the passion, the loyalty, and the tradition of our SEC fans. So with that, Justin, it’s all yours.
JUSTIN CONNOLLY: It would only make sense to show you something that’s we’re working on here. So what we want to do is show you a clip to the storytelling and there are three pieces to this. The first is a compilation spot of what’s been done under the storied umbrella thus far. The second is when you cover a conference, 24/7, 365, you get some interesting footage, and we have some footage of what I think was the most significant play in College Football this year that you probably haven’t seen set and we’re going to show it to you.
I think the Auburn fans will like it in particular. Then last but not least, we have some footage on the “Super Fans”, again a working title, which will debut on the SEC Network. I think you’ll recognize the individual whose profiled there, and our goal is to get out there and show all of the colorful, well‑known alumni that live at each of the schools. So if we could, let’s roll the video here.
So I love the final line there where he says, “I think there are many people like me,” because I’m not sure there are many people like James Carville in so many ways, but there are in that he is among the most passionate fans in the world. It’s just an incredible clip. That is the type of content that we’ll have on air 24/7, 365 on the network.
With that, I want to transition and show you something else today as well. That is an upcoming marketing campaign that we’re going to run you’ll be seeing it a lot around ESPN’s bowl coverage, particularly those bowls that feature SEC teams. But we’ve been working with a creative agency out of North Carolina called McKinney. They’ve done an incredible job with us in terms of building out the brand positioning of this network. ESPN is known for its great advertising campaigns across every medium, TV, newspaper, print, digital. And I just want to show you three of the spots that you’re going to see and this is just a taste.
There are so many different spots that are in production on the road map, and these are the first three. They feature everything from fans, to icons, to coaches. I think you’ll enjoy it, but let’s roll the tape here.
So we could have enjoyed and seen them again. We’ve seen them before. But, again, that’s just a taste and flavor of the campaign that’s going to surround the network, and you’ll see a whole lot of it around the next two months, and you’ll see as we expand it and get closer to launch, and we’re just thrilled about it.
The other piece here is we’re going to continue to expand our presence, meaning the SEC Network at championship events. And that really kicks off this weekend. We have a 1,000 square foot booth at the SEC fanfare, which opens today at 2, and I’d invite you to all swing by and see it. It was also built by our creative agency, McKinney.
We’re going to do Paul Finebaum’s show live there today from 2 to 6, it’s going to be on ESPNU for two hours of the show (3-5 p.m.). I think it would be a great opportunity for you to get there, engage with some of the things that we’re going to do on the network, and see it firsthand and touch it.
And Paul has been a great addition at ESPN, and he’s going to be a big part of the SEC Network as well in addition to Joe. So we’re thrilled about that.
Last but not least, and you’ve heard it before but the best place, to the extent you are a fan, to the extent you want to engage with us and connect to the network is continuing to www.getSECNetwork.com where we’re going to continue to upgrade that and push it as a place where fans can get information, and we can continue to be this transparent about updates and what we’re doing on the network. So with that, I’m going to turn it back to Keri.
KERI POTTS: Thanks, everyone.