Television rights are among the biggest and, potentially, most sensitive issues remaining to be resolved as the University of Hawaii wraps up negotiations for football membership in the Mountain West Conference, people familiar with the situation say.
"As (UH) President M.R.C. Greenwood said, a few things remain to be discussed, and that would be one of them," athletic director Jim Donovan acknowledged.
For all the talk about travel subsidies, the issue of local TV rights — both games aired free and pay-per-view — could have the most impact on local fans if they are not retained in a move to the MWC.
"When you’re a member of a conference, sometimes you have to accept what’s for the good of the conference. Could it be that pay-per-view will go away? Yes, that’s one option," Donovan told the Star-Advertiser, adding, "It could be 20 different ways that this works out."
For the last 27 years of its 32-year membership in the Western Athletic Conference, UH has sold local rights to its sporting events, carrying 110-120 events per year, including pay-per-view, according to KFVE general manager John Fink.
Under the MWC’s current agreement with CBS College Sports and Comcast, "the television partners hold the rights to local football and basketball telecasts," an MWC spokesman said.
"We will want to see how it all plays out and (hope) the local rights are protected the best UH can," Fink said. "We’re optimistic."
Under its current deal with Oceanic Time Warner Cable and KFVE, UH is guaranteed $2.3 million per year for its local TV and PPV rights and has earned as much as $2.6 million total through incentives.
Despite a dip in PPV sales this year, Donovan has said he expects UH to realize $7.5 million in fees for the 3-year period that concludes next month.
In addition, UH receives approximately $400,000 annually from the WAC for its share of the current conference TV contract. The WAC is guaranteed 12 football games on ESPN or ESPN2 annually and 10 on ESPNU, plus 15 basketball games and limited exposure for some other sports.
The MWC’s TV contract runs through 2015-16 and is worth $12 million annually, three times the WAC deal, although there is an option to renegotiate for 2011-12 due to changes in membership.
MWC events are shown on CBS College Sports, Versus and The Mountain, an MWC-specific channel airing a variety of its sports. The Mountain provides coverage of 30 football and more than 75 men’s basketball games, plus a selection of other sports. The Mountain is shown in high definition. Overall, nearly 100 MWC men’s basketball games are shown.
As a football-only MWC member, however, UH would not share in the basketball TV exposure or fees. The Big West, where UH hopes to place its other teams, has agreements with ESPN and Fox Sports West.
Earlier this month, before the announcement of talks with the MWC, when independence was also a consideration, Donovan told a Board of Regents committee, "Let me cut to the chase: Depending upon what happens going forward in the future, we may lose a lot of our TV revenue that we are getting right now."