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Monday, November 24, 2014         

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Playing catch-up

The Mountain West Conference Council reevaluates its TV money

By Ferd Lewis

POSTED:



The Mountain West Conference Council was wrapping up its meetings in Phoenix last month when incredulity over the Pac-12's blockbuster new television agreement began spreading through the corridors.

The Pac-12 announced it would receive an average of $20.8 million per school annually over the life of the deal from ESPN and Fox, the most of any conference at a time when many were hitting TV rights jackpots.

MWC administrators didn't need calculators to grasp that they'd each fallen roughly $19 million a year behind the schools they most closely compete against for players and attention in their geographic area — more than tripling the previous disparity. An amount sure to widen the gap in key areas of facilities, hiring coaches and recruiting athletes.

After a month to ponder that, presidents of the 10 schools that will make up the MWC in 2012, including Hawaii, gather Monday in La Jolla, Calif., for annual meetings where TV money, the conference's major income stream, is sure to be a topic.

The conference office and members have been tight-lipped on the subject as well as on talks about restructuring their current deal with CBS Sports Network and Comcast.

TV DOLLARS

The University of Hawaii will begin competing in the Mountain West Conference in football in 2012. Here's a look at currently contracted average payouts, per member, for conferences in 2012:
LEAGUE TV RIGHTS
Pac-12 $20.8 million
Big 10 $17.6 million
Southeastern $17 million
Big 12 $15 million
Mountain West $1.1 million
Note: Average only since some schools will receive more or less based upon conference agreements.

The MWC, whose 10-year, $120 million agreement runs through 2015-16, has been talking to its TV partners, representatives of whom attended last month's council session. But most of the leverage belongs to the TV partners. Because of the change in MWC membership that sees Brigham Young and Utah depart this year and Texas Christian leave in 2012, CBS Sports Network and Comcast have the option to renegotiate. With five years to run on the contract, they don't have as much urgency as the MWC does to strike a deal, analysts and industry figures say.

Lee H. Berke, president of LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media Inc., said, "It is all in CBS/Comcast's court going forward. There's no compelling reason at this point, as I see it, for the current deal to be reopened. Certainly the conference can approach them but more, I think, they are at the mercy of (their partners)."

Tim Fitzpatrick, spokesman for Comcast, would only say the network "is focused on getting ready for the 2011 football season," and referred questions to the MWC.

Dean Jordan, senior vice president at Wasserman Media Group, has been a consultant for the MWC. He said, "the conference is continually in discussions with its broadcast partners and everyone has the same objectives, and that is for the MWC to get as much exposure as it possibly can to generate revenue and for its networks to obtain the greatest amount of distribution as possible."

At UH, which becomes a football-only member in 2012, there is interest in those talks that goes beyond conference rights fees. The university hopes any new agreement will "protect" local TV rights that have been worth more than $12 million since pay-per-view began in 2002. The current MWC contract gives all TV rights, local as well as national, to its partners.

UH's membership agreement with the MWC says the conference "shall use its reasonable effort — but shall not be obligated to" secure the $2.3 million annual guarantee the school has been banking from its deal with Oceanic Time Warner Cable.

When the MWC broke with ESPN after the 2005-06 season, its new deal, and the birth of "the Mountain" — its regional network — were heralded as groundbreaking and the envy of mid-major conferences. Now, looking to its future, the MWC looks for another large leap to keep pace.






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