The SEC Network is heavily anticipated, and for good reason. When it launches next week, millions of viewers will have access to a channel dedicated to some of college football's most dominant programs. But Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ESPN and the conference aren't creating the network out of fandom -- there's a ton of money to be made.
The network is set to bring in the big bucks. If half of all households are subject to the in-conference rate, that's a little over $700 million a year in revenue. The remaining non-SEC customers should pitch in another $130 million or so. In terms of sheer carriage revenue, that would be near the size of ESPN2, and over three times as large as the Big Ten and Pac-12 networks, Fox Sports estimates.
The obvious critique
To some fans, the SEC Network feels like a money grab. "ESPN and SEC can now siphon content I already had access to onto a new network I have to pay for. YES," The Big Lead's Tyler Duffy tweeted sarcastically this week. "The SEC Network Channel? wait what? I thought ESPN already was the #SEC NETWORK?," another Twitter user wrote.
This sentiment is understandable. In the past, the biggest SEC games were already available to the typical viewer. A dollar or two in carriage fees may not seem like a lot, but they add up. Division I college football alone is home to 11 individual conferences, and a future with 11 different networks likely won't fly with most fans.
The bottom line
The bigger issue, though, is this: The movement takes more money from viewers and puts it in the pockets of television networks and schools, rather than the athletes themselves. The college-pay debate could be a defining issue of this generation, and evidence suggests that although players are worth thousands of dollars, many face scholarship deficits.
Most likely, the SEC Network will succeed. Over the long run, fans just need to decide if athletes deserve a piece of that success.