Monday, August 24, 2009

Conference TV Contract: The MWC

The Mountain West has fought for BCS AQ access, paved the way for conference television networks and managed to get a couple wins in BCS bowls. They managed to leave ESPN of their own accord and live to tell about it. And they have the highest paying contract of all non-AQ conferences.

The MWC and CSTV announced a partnership in late 2004 that was slated to start in 2006 and run for seven year. The MWC spurned ESPN's reported offer to stay on the network because ESPN intended to offer the MWC slots for football on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The contract with CSTV covered all MWC sports and would also move the MWC off of Monday nights where they were part of the Big Monday basketball series. The schools were supposedly unhappy about the 10pm MT start times that those telecasts carried and wanted to get away from the 6-12 day windows where kickoff times were set by ESPN.

Two components were key to the agreement:
  • CSTV, which had limited distribution, had to distribute eight football games to a national over-the-air network or national cable network. Supposedly the magic number for a network to be considered national was 70 million homes.
  • CSTV would create a regional sports network for the conference, absorbing SportsWest Productions, which was a syndicator of WAC and MWC football broadcasts.
Both components have been accomplished, but not without some stumbles. CSTV announced the creation of the mtn. at the 2006 Media Day and a day later Comcast was announced as a partner in the mtn. and would be the recipient of the eight games that would have to be distributed on a national network. Those games were given to Comcast's OLN channel, which changed its name over to Versus a few months later. The mtn. struggled to get distribution on satellite and cable systems from the beginning, but deals have since been struck with DirecTV and other cable distributors throughout the MWC footprint. Dish Network remains on the outside, as does the Time Warner system that covers the San Diego area.

The MWC, by requesting its kickoff times be set before the season starts, has no in-season selection order for games. Versus takes on eight games, CBS College Sports (formerly CSTV) usually takes nine games (they have rights to 24 and the count is the sum of the Versus and CBS C games) and the mtn. takes the rest of the games. It appears that the conference has some sort of clause in their contract that makes sure each team appears at least once for a national telecast. The only downside to this is that the national telecasts can often match teams towards the middle or the bottom of the conference, while a key game could end up on a mtn. regional telecast.

One of the quirks of the television portion of the contract revolves around the BYU-Utah game. The game is often the highest profile game that the conference offers and it has been televised on multiple networks two of the past three years, though in 2008 it stayed exclusively with the mtn.

The one component that seems to be missing from the original CSTV-MWC agreement is the web streaming component. Outside of the games on CBS College Sports, games are not webstreamed. Only time will tell if that ever happens.

The MWC has the revenue and on-field comparisons that rival some AQ conferences. Computer rankings show a divide that exists between them and the other four non-AQ conferences. As their exposure rises through increased availability of their TV partners and their on-field performance as a conference continues to improve, the BCS may have a hard time ignoring them.

EDIT: The MWC has a 10 year deal with CBS College Sports. It is a 10 year, $120 million contract.

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