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The future of UH sports on TV is a big unknown

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When it comes to the post-Western Athletic Conference television future of University of Hawaii sports, better get some new batteries for that clicker, because the wait could take a while.

While Oceanic Time Warner Cable expects to make an announcement "shortly" about some of its plans, according to Norman Santos, its vice president for operations, the bigger picture will take a while to develop, officials say.

Discussions between the Mountain West and its TV partners were characterized this week as "ongoing" by a conference spokesman, with little hint when there might be a resolution. And serious discussions between the Big West and its partners aren’t expected to get moving until the Pac-12 concludes its new package, Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell has said.

UH will end a 33-year relationship with the WAC on June 30, 2012, and become part of the MWC package in football and the Big West in most other sports.

Continuing WAC members were recently given painful indication of the changes wrought by conference realignment when ESPN reportedly said it would cut rights fees for the 2011-12 season by more than 75 percent.

The WAC, which had been receiving about $4 million a year from ESPN, will get, maybe, $1 million in the wake of Boise State’s departure, people in the industry say. UH, as an exiting member, will not share in the 2011-12 WAC disbursements.

DIALING FOR DOLLARS

Conference TV rights contracts

WAC
Current : $4 million
2011-12 $1 million

MWC
Current: $12 million*
2011-12: To be negotiated

Big West
Current: $100,000
2012-13: To be negotiated

Conference USA
Current : $11.3 million
2011-12 $43 million (pending)

Pac-12
Current : $56.7 million
2012-13: To be negotiated

* Runs through 2015-16 but can be renegotiated in wake of membership changes.

Source: Conferences, Sports Business Journal and other sources.

 

WAC commissioner Karl Benson refused to confirm or deny the rumored ESPN terms.

When UH, Fresno State and Nevada join the MWC in 2012, the WAC could cease to receive even a six-figure guarantee, some in the industry speculate.

The MWC currently receives $12 million a year through its partnerships with CBS College Sports and Comcast on a contract that had been scheduled to run through 2015-16. However, there is a clause that permits the TV partners to renegotiate or end the deal when membership changes.

That’s why, with Utah (Pac-12) and Brigham Young (independent) leaving this year and Texas Christian (Big East) departing in 2012, the MWC was forced into an expansion mode, adding Fresno State and Nevada and then, in December, UH.

Conference officials have been tight-lipped about whether they expect to preserve or even expand upon the current $12 million annual payday. But it was significant in January that, after much talk about possible expansion, they decided to stand pat with 10 members for 2012.

But in the wake of Conference USA’s new, richer TV deal, a lot of conferences are looking for more lucrative paydays.

Sports Business Journal reported the Big 12 is close to a cable agreement with Fox that will triple the $20 million it gets annually. And Conference USA has negotiated a pending $43 million deal with Fox that would more than triple its rights fees.

Meanwhile, the Pac-12, which has been receiving $56.7 million annually and adds Utah and Colorado this summer, is going into negotiations with ESPN and Fox asking for "considerably more than the $205 million per year that the SEC got combined from CBS and ESPN," Sports Business Journal said.

Locally, Oceanic is expected to announce as soon as next week its general manager/executive producer for the UH Channel scheduled to debut this summer. Former KFVE producer Dan Schmidt and Oceanic’s current producer, Dave Vinton, are rumored to be finalists.

Santos said the extent of Oceanic’s pay-per-view package is not likely to expand greatly this fall from the 16-20 events it has been offering.

"For the 2011 season, we’re not expecting to do a lot more with pay-per-view because the WAC is still involved," Santos said. "I don’t think that is gonna change."

As for the future, Santos said, "the negotiations with the Mountain West are still way up in the air. I’m still not sure (where) they are."

The MWC has pledged to try to negotiate a "carve out" locally for UH and preserve, in some form, the $2.3 million the school is guaranteed by Oceanic but is "not obligated" to obtain those terms, according to the MWC contract signed this month.

 

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