Moun­tain West weighs TV money ver­sus con­trol­ling game times


LARAMIE, Wyo. — At the Univer­sity of Wy­oming, the trade-off the Moun­tain West is mak­ing for tele­vi­sion is ap­par­ent.

The Cow­boys drew more fans to Me­mo­rial Sta­dium for each af­ter­noon game in Septem­ber against non­con­fer­ence foes Gard­ner-webb and Texas State than they did for the con­fer­ence opener against Hawaii, which kicked off at 8:15 p.m. Moun­tain time.

The Hawaii game was broad­cast on ESPN2 as part of a deal that pays the Moun­tain West more than $100 mil­lion over seven years. The Texas State game was streamed ex­clu­sively on Face­book, which pays the con­fer­ence noth­ing for the con­tent.

The Moun­tain West has three years left on the TV con­tract that puts most of its mem­bers’ home foot­ball games on an ESPN chan­nel or CBS Sports Net­work. As con­fer­ence of­fi­cials pon­der their next move, the Moun­tain West is ex­per­i­ment­ing with al­ter­na­tives to tra­di­tional broad­cast­ing and weigh­ing whether filling all those late TV win­dows is worth the money its mem­bers are mak­ing.

“The is­sue is for us, the money is not so great that, at least in my opin­ion, that we are will­ing to just play game times when­ever TV calls,” Wy­oming ath­letic di­rec­tor Tom Bur­man said ear­lier this sea­son. “That’s the chal­lenges. If you want money from ESPN or CBS we’re go­ing to have to play in that late win­dow. That’s kind of what we bring them. In­ven­tory late at night or some­times off Satur­day.”

A sched­ule loaded with late kick­offs and some week­night games has been an an­nual source of com­plaints in the Pac-12 among fans, coaches and ad­min­is­tra­tors. Wash­ing­ton coach Chris Petersen caused a bit of stir when he voiced dis­plea­sure with his play­off-con­tend­ing Huskies con­sis­tently play­ing Pa­cific time night games.

Moun­tain West schools are fac­ing a sim­i­lar is­sue but with a ma­jor dif­fer­ence: The Pac-12’s tele­vi­sion con­tract with ESPN and Fox is the ma­jor source of con­fer­ence rev­enue that paid its mem­bers about $28 mil­lion apiece for fis­cal year 2016, ac­cord­ing to tax doc­u­ments.

The Moun­tain West schools are mak­ing about $1.1 mil­lion from their deals with ESPN, CBS and AT&T Sports Net. Boise State’s mem­ber­ship agree­ment gives the school an ad­di­tional $1.8 mil­lion, ap­prox­i­mately, per year.

“It’s great to be aligned with a lin­ear broad­caster, but what we’ve seen, too, is that im­pacts with our lo­cal­ized fan­base,” Colorado State ath­letic di­rec­tor Joe Parker said.

Colorado State just made a huge com­mit­ment to ap­peal­ing to its lo­cal fan­base, open­ing a $220 mil­lion, on-cam­pus sta­dium this year.

“We’ve seen all the en­gage­ment met­ric launch­ing in a re­mark­able up­ward trend,” Parker said. “The thing that I’m con­cerned about is if we start mov­ing our games off Satur­day or if we start end­ing up in the 8 (p.m. lo­cal) or later time slot, that’s go­ing to have im­pacts on fans want­ing to at­tend in venue.”

Moun­tain West Com­mis­sioner Craig Thomp­son said the con­fer­ence is crunch­ing num­bers to get a bet­ter han­dle of how sched­ul­ing for TV im­pacts other rev­enue sources. It is not as sim­ple as count­ing gameday re­ceipts.

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