Sunday, September 6, 2009

Conference TV Contract: The WAC

The WAC brand has meant a lot of different things over the past ten years. A league of western transplants. Teams left behind from the MWC split and a near collapse. A conference that started completely over but has been able to place teams in the top 25 and in the BCS bowls. Its reward? A gradual increase in the number of exposures over the past decade to a level similar to other non-AQ conferences.

The WAC signed a new seven year contract with ESPN Networks with increases in the number of games available for ESPN/ESPN2 to select, plus games available for ESPNU. The contract starts with the 2010-11 athletic year and includes increased exposure for other sports. The ESPNU component of the contract started immediately when it was signed. Under the final year of the current deal, ESPN/ESPN2 has the rights to at least eight football games (they usually televise more than that) and under the new deal the minimum will increase to ten games. ABC could also pick up WAC games if it desires to. Many of the ESPN/ESPN2 games appear on weeknights.

ESPNU is a new component to the deal. The WAC placed some games on ESPNU when it started but backed off of that once ESPN said they would not compensate the conference for the ESPNU games. Under the new deal, ESPNU will have at least six games. For now, they can select games as available.

ESPN Regional is the regional rightsholder and can choose up to five games to syndicate across the conference footprint. This amount will not change going into the new contract. Unlike other deals that ESPN has done, cannot choose games for exclusive webstreaming, though they can simulcast any ESPN/ESPN2, ABC or game appearing on ESPN GamePlan. For the games not chosen by these entities, the schools retain the right to televise games locally. Many schools provide telecasts only for road games, some provide them for all games not selected by ESPN/ESPN2 and Hawai'i goes with a very lucrative PPV contract.

Most ESPN/ESPN2 games are selected before the season starts. Depending on the available telecasts later in the season and the available teams, WAC games have been added to the schedule as the season progresses. The ESPNU games generally will be Saturday games. If they involve Hawai'i they must be on Saturdays due to travel. A requirement that must be met each season is that every team makes at least one appearance on ESPN, ESPN2, ABC or ESPNU as part of the WAC contract.

The WAC has changed in membership and size over the past decade. Members have come and gone. Exposure has increased, from a small package on Fox Sports Net, a return to ESPN and increases in exposure with the last two contracts. BCS appearances by Hawai'i and Boise St. have raised the profile of the conference and the media side of the house is in in great shape. Now it needs for the bottom of the conference to, as the WAC says, "Play Up" and get better.

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