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Henry's Highlights
Monday, May 23, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Only one known cure for sparse TV slate


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Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky has orchestrated a television strategy for the league this year that will get more games than ever on the tube. Unfortunately, East Carolina will not be the beneficiary.

At first glance, this year’s television contracts are not very sexy. However, in putting together a new television contract, Banowsky utilized the theory of getting more games on the air while allowing the primary carrier, ESPN, to drop back in its coverage and financial commitment to the conference.

Overall, the league makes more money and has more games on television than ever before by bringing in a little known new channel that is hoping to utilize this agreement and similar ones in the country to make a name for itself.

College Sports Television Network has just signed a six-year deal with C-USA that not only includes coverage of football and basketball but a number of non-revenue sports as well.

ESPN will still be the marquee’ carrier for league sports but will dramatically cut back its commitment to the league. The cable sports giant will air only a minimum of 12 regular season Conference USA football games this coming season. ESPN will also air the first ever conference championship game on Saturday, Dec. 3, and five bowl games which will feature a league participant.

Getting to that championship game might be East Carolina’s only hope of appearing on ESPN this year. Airing of Pirate games was once taken for granted on the premiere sports television network. But a lack of wins at ECU has translated into little interest to a national audience, so there has been little coverage in the last few years.

The Pirates were offered just one regular season appearance as part of the conference package this season. The opener with Duke will be aired on CSTV on Saturday, Sept. 3. The game time was moved to 1 p.m. to accommodate the broadcast, meaning it will be played in sweltering heat and humidity in Greenville.

The recently realigned conference will welcome some new members for the 2005 football campaign and they will get some national exposure early on.

Coach George O’Leary will take his Central Florida team to Columbia as the contestant in Steve Spurrier’s debut at South Carolina to open the season. That game will be the featured first Thursday night ESPN broadcast on Sept. 1.

Ole’ Miss travels to play at Memphis in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in the traditional Labor Day game. That contest will be aired on ESPN at 4:30 on Sept. 5.

Other than those two games, the only other regular season game that are to air on the ESPN mothership will be a Friday night Southern Miss-UAB match-up on Oct. 21.

All other games as part of the ESPN contract will be carried by ESPN2 and all but two of them will air in the first three weeks of the season.

So, check your local listings, but it is pretty obvious that coverage of this year’s Conference USA football is going to be a bit of a challenge if you live outside the immediate area of a league participant.

CSTV is just getting off the ground and while it has signed contracts with many of the large national cable carriers, it may take a few years to get coverage in your area. DirecTV has agreed to put the games up on the bird and cable companies such as Cox, Time Warner, Comcast, Charter and Adelphia have signed national agreements with the new network.

However, local operators will have the option to carry CSTV games or not and many are having trouble finding room for another sports network that will provide little audience and revenue in the first few years. So, it is not a slam dunk that your cable provider will air the CSTV games even if you are a customer of one of the above.

ECU will still have a local TV package that will air on WITN and will include at least four football games this year.

Nowhere is the Pirates’ drop from the national scene more glaring than this just announced set of television schedules for the 2005 season.

At one time, ECU was one of two major universities (the other being Notre Dame) which had its own agreement with a major television network. Those days seem long gone at this stage.

National television is driven by two things: audience and revenue. Those things go hand in hand and there is only one way for ECU to get back to the point that the executives who run those companies will be willing to let us back in the door.

As Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis once said: "Just win baby!"


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02/23/2007 10:16:20 AM

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