Justin Connolly is the New Most Powerful Man in College Football

By M. Shannon Smallwood
Courtesy of SEC Digital Network Facebook Page

Move over Phil Knight. Whether you like it or not, there is a new king of College Football. And his name is Justin Connolly.

So, as you open up another window to Google Connolly, be warned it’s not the British Composer. The Connolly (far left above) taking over the top spot is the one who has been instrumental in building the brand of college sports for ESPN and was the man directly responsible for the Longhorn Network making the revenue machine that is the University of Texas, even stronger.

And now, Connolly has been given the keys to the SEC as the architect for the new SEC Network. Add his experience with the brand that is the SEC and the money he will oversee will make Knight and Nike look like one of the vendor stands sprinkled in the midst of all the tailgates on a Saturday.

Connolly got his start in the corporate treasury department with Disney before moving over the VP of National Accounts for the mouse and the mothership. So, when it comes to the excellence or the hype of the SEC, Connolly will not be phased with any obstacle.

But the biggest weapon Connolly has in his experience is his leadership in the growth of the Longhorn Network. He and ESPN figured things out by doing a lot wrong before getting it right. The Longhorn Network struggled to be relevant in the first few years because ESPN priced it to a point not one single cable provider wanted to bite. But in the past few years, the flagship that is the Texas Longhorns is on just about every major provider and Connolly has done a tremendous job in developing compelling programming to keep the network growing. The network the smart guys in TV laughed at and tabbed would never make it, just got nominated for 10 awards in excellence for college sports programming.

And based on learning from their mistakes in Austin, the SEC Network already has AT&T U-Verse, the fastest growing cable provider, on board. With AT&T already signed up, DirecTV, Comcast and Verizon FIOS will not be far behind. The presidents of the SEC met and are saying that they are being conservative and are not budgeting the TV revenue money in at this point, but they are expecting $25 million per school in revenue from the network. In comparison, the Big 10 Network made $10.7 million in its first year, while the Longhorn Network made $9.2 million in year one.

Programming will not be an issue with Connolly either. In 2012, three of the top four rated college football games were SEC battles, including a 9.8 (16.2 million viewers) for the SEC Championship Game. Add the power of the viewer wanting to watch SEC Football along with the excellence in baseball, women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s basketball, swimming and diving, tennis and soccer, just to name a few, Connolly will have hours of live competition viewers will crave.

So, if you didn’t know who Connolly was until now, you might want to get more familiar with him. Because if SEC Commissioner Mike Sliva is willing to invest the mint that is the SEC with him, Connolly is going to be a big deal.


M Shannon Smallwood is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association.

Follow him @woodysmalls.

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