MWC strikes deal with College Sports Television

The Mountain West Conference is taking a risk now with hopes for a big payoff in the future.

The MWC and College Sports TV announced a partnership Thursday, one that will give the conference more money, if not more viewers, than the current deal with ESPN.

The seven-year, $77 million contract will go into effect in 2006, by which time College Sports TV expects to be on more televisions than today. Currently the network is only available on DirecTV for those viewers with a satellite dish.

MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson expects the gamble to pay off. “This partnership will provide the Mountain West Conference more exposure over a variety of mediums than any other conference,” he said.

CSTV will give the conference a more multi-media experience than ESPN, including video-on-demand, broadband highlights, satellite radio game coverage and national TV games.

The risk became more palatable to the MWC when the money was raised to an amount substantially more than ESPN was offering.

Each MWC school (including soon-to-be-added TCU) will make an average of $1.2 million a year. That is a 40 percent improvement over the current ESPN deal.

The other improvement over the old deal involves the games themselves. Recently, the conference has had to deal with scheduling football and basketball contests at odd hours to appease the demands of ESPN.

With the new CSTV agreement, the 10 p.m. basketball games and football games on weekdays will be over.

Football will also benefit from the end of Saturday blackout periods mandated by ESPN and ABC that required non-nationally televised games to be played either early or late in the day, hurting attendance.

Since the MWC will be the flagship conference for CSTV, the schools will have much more flexibility for start times.

In Utah football’s case, this means more Saturday evening games in the fall and Saturday day games once the weather turns cold. Last season’s attendance was hurt for evening games in winter weather versus Oregon and Wyoming.

The MWC began looking for a new deal after ESPN declined to renew the current contract after 2006.

The MWC has been the lowest- drawing conference for ESPN, which would have resulted in the Atlantic Coast Conference receiving the good football slots, with the MWC being pushed to less desirable slots earlier in the week.

CSTV, which is comprised of both the television station and collegesports.com, is currently in negotiations with several cable outlets to give more exposure to the conference when the deal takes effect.

CSTV is trying to secure deals with Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Along with DirecTV, this would give CSTV contracts with the top three cable providers, reaching more than 50 million homes.

Founded by Brian Bedol, Steve Greenberg and Chris Bevilacqua, CSTV is entering its fifth year. Bedol and Greenberg were responsible for founding Classic Sports Network, which was sold to ESPN and is now ESPN Classic. Bevilacqua is a former executive at Nike, where he is credited with helping broaden the company’s college demographic.

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