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.