Big Ten teams up with DirecTV

The Big Ten Network will carry up to three Gopher football games during the 2007 season.

Jake Grovum

While nearly 50,000 screaming fans piled into the Metrodome Saturday for the start of the Tim Brewster era of Gopher football, the game they came to see served as part of the first college football coverage for the Big Ten Network.

The first day of major college football action, the network exclusively televised six Big Ten match-ups Saturday.

The network is a joint venture between Fox Cable Networks and the Big Ten, which seeks to give the conference the level of exposure it desires, said media relations manager for the network Mike Vest.

Despite their intentions, network officials have had trouble coming to agreements with many television service providers.

The network has reached broadcast agreements with more than 100 service providers including DirecTV, according to Vest, but has yet to strike a deal with Comcast, one of the largest cable providers in Minnesota.

Comcast provides television service to 55 percent of cable service subscribers in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Cable Communications Association. Comcast also provides cable service to the residence halls on campus.

The Birth of the BTN

The network was first conceived following a meeting between Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney and officials from ABC and ESPN, Vest said.

At that meeting Delaney was told ABC and ESPN had intentions of moving Big Ten football games to weeknights and had no desire to increase coverage of women’s sports, Vest said.

“There’s a general sense that fans are accustomed to seeing every single game,” he said. “That’s not been entirely true.”

In the past two years, 13 Big Ten football games and 85 basketball games have not been televised, Vest said.

The network will carry three to five Gopher football games and 15 to 20 men’s basketball games in the upcoming year, Vest said.

The additional exposure for teams at the University is “just tremendous”, associate athletics director Tom Wistrcill said.

Increased exposure isn’t the only benefit of an athletic conference with its own network. The University athletics department will receive approximately $7.5 million annually in additional revenue from the network, Wistrcill said.

Campus Reaction

While complications in negotiations were expected, Wistrcill said he looks forward to the day when Gopher fans across the state will be able to tune into the games.

“We certainly wish all those agreements were done and in place,” he said. “This is a long-term deal; we’re talking about 20 years, and eventually it will get worked out and our fans will be able to see it.”

Economics sophomore Jason Rose said while the increased exposure the network might bring is a positive thing, he is disappointed Gopher events will be unavailable to some students.

“That’s a big part of going to a Big Ten school, having the opportunity to see those schools play,” he said.

Business and economics first-year Billy Kaye decided not to pay for cable in his dormitory but knows people who did and said they deserve to see the games.

“If they’re going to supply the cable they should have the game on,” he said. “It’s kind of a bummer; I’d rather watch it on TV than listen on the radio.”

While negotiations continue to sputter, one of the only ways some Gopher fans will be taking in the 2007 campaign is from a seat in the Metrodome.

“We encourage people that don’t have DirecTV to come to the game,” Wistrcill said. “Come buy a ticket and come to the Dome.”

Negotiations have ‘Broken Down’

Comcast and the network have disagreed over the placement of the channel on service plans, officials said.

Comcast wants to place the network in an optional sports package, Mary Beth Schubert, vice president of corporate affairs for Comcast, said.

Placement in a sports package would mean customers who wanted the network would pay $5.99 more per month, Schubert said.

“We simply can’t allow Fox and the Big Ten to burden all of our customers,” she said. “Quite frankly, the vast majority of who have no interest in Big Ten sports.”

Network officials are looking to place the network as part of an expanded basic service package, Vest said.

“Negotiations with Comcast have broken down,” he said. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to make a deal with them in the foreseeable future.”

Comcast’s major concern is the programming that will be featured on the network, Schubert said.

“We all know what’s king when you launch a new channel, which is content,” she said. “Quite frankly the content is very dismal and underwhelming on the Big Ten Network.”

Despite the creation of the network, ABC and ESPN will still have the first “rights of refusal” to any game, according to Schubert.

“Just by virtue of that agreement the Big Ten Network will not get marquee games,” she said.

The network will have the second pick on three occasions this football season and have the third pick three other times, according to Vest.

“Certainly the game that people care the most about every week is the Minnesota game,” Vest said. “We feel like we’re going to have games on the Big Ten Network that people really care about.”