SEC Network Assist Lets UA Use Basketball Streaming in NLR as Test Balloon for Baseball

Arkansas basketball, Simmons Bank Arena
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Little Rock Athletics

Arkansas basketball fans won’t have to make the annual pilgrimage to North Little Rock to be treated to a hoops doubleheader on Saturday.

For the first time in nearly a decade, there is a viewing option for the Razorbacks’ game at Simmons Bank Arena, as their matchup with Lipscomb will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus and ESPN-Plus.

Tipoff of Arkansas vs Lipscomb is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT. That follows the women’s team, which tips off at 12:30 p.m. against Samford. Like the men’s game, it too will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

This is a welcome change for Arkansas fans, as the annual game in central Arkansas has typically been the only one on the schedule they’ve been unable to watch from the comfort of home.

In fact, since the creation of the SEC Network, only one game down there had been broadcast — the Razorbacks’ 84-67 win over Southeast Missouri State on Dec. 20, 2014.

Streaming Difficulties in NLR

That was the first year of ESPN’s 20-year deal with the SEC, which has led to unprecedented coverage of sporting events within the league. Even when games aren’t broadcast on linear television (meaning on ESPN or one of its many channels), they can be streamed online.

The last seven games at Simmons Bank Arena, formerly known as Alltel Arena and Verizon Arena, have not been broadcast digitally because the infrastructure needed for that is based on Fayetteville.

All on-campus events are produced in a control room inside Bud Walton Arena, which has a hardwired connection with the SEC Network’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. that is necessary for online distribution.

To stream an event 2.5 hours away would require a satellite truck to establish that connection. With men’s and women’s basketball and baseball each playing only one game away from home per year, that wouldn’t have been a cost-effective option for the Razorbacks — especially when you factored in the cost of hiring a production company.

Arkansas also couldn’t sell the broadcast rights to another entity, such as FloSports or a local television station like KATV, because it’s considered a home game and ESPN/SEC Network owns the rights. Before the current deal with ESPN, KATV or the old Cox Sports TV (CST) could pick up games like this.

An Assist from SEC Network

Despite those roadblocks, senior associate AD Kevin Trainor — who oversees Razorback Sports Network — told Best of Arkansas Sports that the UA hadn’t stopped trying to figure out how to broadcast those games.

They finally did just that, thanks to an assist from the SEC Network. Arkansas is borrowing an encoder that will essentially replace the satellite truck.

“We found a solution that made it a lot more economically feasible to broadcast the games because you’ve taken that satellite truck out of the mix,” Trainor said. “We’ve continued to try to find ways to do it and they stepped forward to allow us the opportunity to do this.”

The UA still had to hire an independent production company, but Trainor estimated that eliminating the need for a satellite truck cut the UA’s total cost at least in half. It was made even more cost efficient by the fact that they’ll be streaming back-to-back games on the same day. 

Just like SEC Network-Plus broadcasts in Fayetteville, Brett Dolan and Manuale Watkins will be on the call for the men’s game. Dolan will also call the women’s game, with Matt Zimmerman serving as the color analyst before shifting to his duties as Chuck Barrett’s partner on the radio broadcast of the men’s game.

“We continue to work at finding solutions and working with the SEC Network,” Trainor said. “We’re excited that Razorback fans around the state and, really, around the country will be able to watch the games on Saturday, both the women’s and men’s games.”

If everything goes smoothly Saturday, Trainor said there’s a good chance the UA will do the same thing for the annual Arkansas baseball game at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, which is scheduled for April 23 against UAPB.

Last year, the baseball team actually lost to Lipscomb in central Arkansas — a fate Eric Musselman’s squad is trying to avoid, especially now that it’s being broadcast on SEC Network-Plus.

“If we play really good, I’ll be really really happy that this thing got streamed and worked out that it can be viewed by a bunch of people,” Musselman said. “If we don’t play well, then I probably wished the streaming issues would have continued. But no, I think it’s great that they figured it out.”

How to Watch Arkansas vs Samford

*Women’s Hoops*

Date: Saturday, Dec. 16

Location: Simmons Bank Arena (North Little Rock, Ark.)

Tipoff/TV: 12:30 p.m. CT (SECN+)

How to Watch Arkansas vs Lipscomb

*Men’s Hoops*

Date: Saturday, Dec. 16

Location: Simmons Bank Arena (North Little Rock, Ark.)

Tipoff/TV: 5 p.m. CT (SECN+ / ESPN+)

For a preview of the game, go here:

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Check out what Jalen Graham had to say leading up to Arkansas basketball’s annual trip to Simmons Bank Arena:

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