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Major Kentucky cable providers not on board with SEC Network

By Jennifer SmithLexington Herald-Leader

There could be a lot of blue Kentucky fans come the middle of August.

Their basketball team will be on a "Big Blue Bahamas" exhibition tour, and some of the games will be the first live events shown on the SEC Network.

But if current negotiations don't budge, most fans in Kentucky won't be able to see the games on the new network.

Fans also might not be able to watch the Cats' football season opener two weeks later at Commonwealth Stadium. And those are just the games that will be missed in the short term.

The SEC Network has announced deals with AT&T U-verse, Cox, Dish Network and Google Fiber, but major statewide providers such as Time Warner Cable and DirecTV are not on board yet.

The University of Kentucky has let ESPN do its negotiating, but the school and league are encouraging fans to take action before the team flies to the white sandy beaches.

"They're optimistic they can still get a deal done before launch," UK Athletics spokesman DeWayne Peevy said, noting that the games will not be shown on the school's website.

"I think that was a big factor of them being willing to go broadcast our basketball games in the Bahamas."

The Southeastern Conference, which said it's having "productive conversations" with holdout cable and satellite providers, said UK's fans might be able to help the negotiations along.

"Given the rabid interest in basketball in the state of Kentucky and the fans of Kentucky, it's good content for the network," said Charlie Hussey, an associate commissioner for network relations. "Hopefully Kentucky fans will have access to that and be able to watch the Cats play those exhibition games."

UK and the league are advising fans to go to GetSECNetwork.com, a one-stop site to make requests to their local providers. Hussey said fans can also call their own providers or write on their bills that they want the SEC Network added.

When contacted by the Herald-Leader, Time Warner Cable spokesman Mike Hogan said: "I can't speculate at this point if we will carry the SEC Network. We've had discussions, but we don't have an agreement at this time."

On its website, DirectTV argued that people with no interest in sports "should not be forced to pay a huge premium for something they don't care to watch.

"No matter who provides your TV service, the relentlessly rising price of sports has already caused everyone's bill for basic TV to more than double over the past decade," it continued.

Various reports have said the SEC Network is charging $1.30 a month per customer in SEC markets.

DirectTV spokesman Robert Mercer reiterated that message to the Herald-Leader on Thursday, noting that his company "hopes to be able to provide it as soon as we possibly can.

"We are working cooperatively to ensure that everyone can still see their favorite SEC team play at the most reasonable value to all SEC fans and the rest of our customers throughout the Southeast."

But DirectTV noted that viewers should have a choice, that fans should have access to the games they want and viewers with no sports interest shouldn't have to pay for what they don't want.

The SEC spokesman said the conversations have been productive overall.

"We're optimistic we'll have more opportunities and announcements here soon," Hussey said.

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