Network nabs rights to games

Notching the biggest deal in its 39-year history, ESPN has purchased the national TV rights to games and competitions of college sports’ prestigious Southeastern Conference.

The 15-year pact, commencing in the 2009-10 season and running through 2024, was struck for a reported total of $2.25 billion, or $150 million per year.

The deal is big on a few scores. For one, the SEC includes the storied programs at Louisiana State U., the U. of Mississippi, Auburn and the universities of Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

Second, the cable sports giant’s coverage will run the gamut from football and men and women’s basketball to women’s baseball, softball and gymnastics, including an assortment of championship games. National contests will be branded “SEC on ESPN.”

Third, the pact has the Disney-owned net carrying 5,500 events across a slew of platforms — including ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Regional Television, ESPN Mobile TV, ESPN Intl., ESPN Deportes, as well as sibling broadcaster ABC. ESPN360.com will serve as a broadcast platform as well as a home for the SEC’s online Academic Network.

“The SEC delivers tremendous quality and depth and a devoted, widespread fan base,” said ESPN prexy George Bodenheimer. “This historic deal will offer fans more SEC access than ever before through every form of media that exists today or may be developed during the life of this long-term arrangement.”

The big asterisk to the deal is that it excludes from ESPN’s grasp a smattering of national contests — including the SEC football championship — already spoken for by CBS.

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