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Warriors’ popularity may come with a price

Ferd Lewis
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With Boise State's exit from the Western Athletic Conference, the University of Hawaii Warriors are poised to gain network TV appearances, increasing their visibility but potentially cutting into the team's pay-per-view revenue.

The University of Hawaii football team is poised to gain network TV appearances from Boise State’s exit from the Western Athletic Conference this season, but the increased visibility is likely to come with a financial punch.

The Warriors are under consideration for at least five regular-season network television games in 2011 as ESPN and other networks begin announcing their fall football lineups.

But not only does UH not stand to receive any conference rights fees in its final WAC season, the increased exposure could also impact its local pay-per-view earnings.

"While more games may appear on ‘free’ TV due to UH being the big dog in the conference in 2011, the number of games available for PPV might be lessened, which would, naturally, mean less revenue for UH," wrote Norman Santos, Oceanic Time Warner Cable vice president for operations, in an e-mail to the Star-Advertiser.

UH is to receive $2.45 million in fees for its 2010 pay-per-view package, which included 11 of the Warriors’ 13 regular season games.

According to WAC and UH officials, ESPN — the WAC’s TV partner — is said to be considering UH nonconference home games against Colorado (Sept. 3) and Brigham Young (Dec. 3) in addition to a conference home game against Fresno State and an away game at Nevada. Dates for those games are expected to be announced in March when the WAC schedule is completed.

In addition, one of the Pac-12 TV partners, possibly Fox Sports Net-Northwest, is likely to pick up the Sept. 10 game at Washington. All of UW’s games since late in the 2007 season have been shown by one of the conference’s partners.

Under terms of the WAC’s agreement with ESPN, the network may show as many as six games of one school without a waiver. Last year ESPN showed six Boise State regular-season games and secured an option for a seventh under the WAC contract. But with the Broncos’ move to the Mountain West in July, returning tri-champions UH and Nevada, plus Fresno State, are the most likely to pick up games.

Coming off a 10-4 UH season, WAC commissioner Karl Benson said, "I would expect Hawaii to be of interest to ESPN, they always have been."

The forecast comes despite an expected cutback in the number of WAC games ESPN figures to show in 2011. The WAC and ESPN are renegotiating the conference’s TV deal in the wake of Boise State’s exit and impending departures by UH, Nevada and Fresno State in 2012.

The WAC has received approximately $4 million a season and been guaranteed a minimum of 10 games on the combination of ESPN and ESPN2, plus six more on ESPNU. UH’s share will be about $400,000 when checks go out in June.

But WAC associate commissioner Jeff Hurd said, "There’s going to be reduced games, although to what extent I don’t know yet."

Last year UH had two ESPN regular-season appearances and one on CBS College Sports under Army’s contract.

But since the 2011 football season will be UH’s last after 33 years in the WAC, the Warriors will forfeit most of their conference disbursements in June 2012, including WAC TV rights fees.

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