When TCU began playing in the Mountain West Conference in 2005, university officials worried fans might not stay up to watch games televised late at night from the West Coast.Now, fans across the conference might have a hard time watching any televised games, even though there are more conference games on TV this season due to new television initiatives.
Thirty of the 48 scheduled televised games won’t play to a national audience. That’s because those games are set to air on the MountainWest Television Network — a network that league officials say is struggling to get off the ground and into fans’ homes.
“Starting a network takes time, and it takes time to develop,” said Javan Hedlund, MWC associate commissioner for communications. “Once it’s out there all over the country, there will be more coverage of the Mountain West Conference than ever before.”
The network, officially named the mtn., launched at the beginning of football season and currently reaches fans in five states, but not Texas, Hedlund said.
TCU is scheduled to play on the mtn. three times this season.
Two of those games are away games, and while distribution on Dallas/Fort Worth area providers Time Warner and Charter is on the horizon, Hedlund said, he admitted there is no timetable.
Gary Underwood, director of communications at Time Warner Cable, said these negotiations are typical when a new network enters the market.
“We’ve talked to the mtn., but sports programming is expensive,” Underwood said.
He said one-third of subscribers’ fees already go to paying for programming.
For the network to reach a national audience, satellite providers such as DISH Network and DIRECTV will have to pick up the mtn. – a task Hedlund said can only be accomplished through negotiation.
“Even the New York Yankees took two years to get on cable,” he said. “They’re still not on DISH Network, and the Yankees have more appeal than almost any sports team in America.”
Hedlund said the network makes financial sense for companies since it’s currently the least expensive sports package available.
The league currently will not disclose the package’s price because the organization doesn’t want negotiations taking place in the media, Hedlund said.
Scott Kull, associate director of athletics external operations, said the university hopes to see the network picked up by local and national providers.
“Assuming you have clearance in this market,” Kull said, “that’s very good television distribution.”
Head football coach Gary Patterson is already excited about the prospect of a more regular national audience.
“The sky’s the limit right now,” Patterson said. “We’re just touching the iceberg of what we can get accomplished with this.”
Patterson said he hopes the extra exposure will build a stronger national fan base, and said it will definitely help with recruiting – especially if the team, now 3-2, is winning.
Comcast subscribers already have access to the channel because Comcast owns 50 percent of the network.
Comcast’s financial interest in the channel won’t impede the network’s spread to other providers, Hedlund said, since increasing the size of the network’s audience will ultimately mean increased revenue for Comcast.
The other 50 percent belongs to CSTV, a CBS-owned company that is the exclusive rights-holder for all conference home games.
The new arrangement also benefits the conference financially.
The initial deal between the mtn. and the conference was a seven-year deal valued at $82 million. The current deal could last up to 14 years and may be worth twice the amount of the previous deal, Hedlund said.
Both Kull and Hedlund said local fans who want to see games aired on the mtn. should contact their cable providers.