Big Ten Network battles for hockey games

Andrew Cummins

Mechanical engineering junior Joe Udvari usually invites friends to his apartment to cheer on the Gophers men’s hockey team. Friday night, that wasn’t an option.

Friday’s game was carried exclusively on the Big Ten Network, marking the fourth time this year the network has claimed a men’s hockey game.

In past years, the team’s regular-season games have only been shown on Fox Sports Net North.

However, before this season, the Big Ten Network secured rights to carry games this season that were not picked up by FSN North, Mike Vest, Big Ten Network spokesman, said.

The difference in carrier for some games has forced students like Udvari and Stephen Lyngstad to adjust their viewing venues.

Lyngstad, a first-year finance student, said he might have had to find an alternate place to watch the game, had he not found a ticket for sale on Facebook.

“Before I got my hands on a ticket for the game (Friday), I for sure would have been affected by the game being shown on Big Ten Network, especially since there is no option to get it here in the dorms,” Lyngtsad said.

The University Athletics Department is well aware of the situation, as Athletics Director Joel Maturi in December helped draft an e-mail addressing complaints about the Big Ten Network.

Senior Associate Athletics Director Tom Wistrcill reiterated the University’s commitment to the network and said he hopes those without it will find other ways to cheer for the Gophers.

“We encourage all students to find alternative methods to view games,” he said.

The Big Ten Network, which launched in August, isn’t available on standard cable providers such as Comcast, which supplies cable programming to all of Minneapolis.

While the Big Ten Network has been a pain for some fans, it has positively affected the business of some local bars and restaurants that carry the network.

Joe Berg, assistant manager at the Library Bar in Dinkytown, noted the presence of the Big Ten Network at the Library has drawn in more patrons.

Despite better business, Berg realizes the hassle students and fans face when they have to go out to watch a hockey game, he said.

“I’m sure they’d like to be sitting at home,” he said.

Comcast and the Big Ten Network have been negotiating on and off for months, arguing over how the channel should be offered.

Comcast continues to push that the channel should be available on an à la carte basis, similar to its other higher-end sports programming.

The cable company also corporately sponsors an anti-Big Ten Network Web site, puttingfansfirst.com. The site aims to connect fans struggling with the rising costs of college sports programming.

Comcast spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert said she understands the situation and sympathizes with students who can’t view the games.

“We are Gopher fans,” Schubert said. “We see the importance of supporting sports at all different levels.”

The Big Ten Network, on the other hand, wants its network included in basic cable packages. The network is still emphasizing the benefits its product offers to the University.

“The network provides a platform to reach Minnesota fans, hockey fans and potential recruits not just in Minnesota, but nationwide,” Vest said.

Wistrcill echoed that statement and explained the benefit the network has on Gopher athletes.

“It provides unprecedented coverage for our athletes nationwide,” he said.

Although the nature of talks between Comcast and Big Ten Network is unclear at this point, Lyngstad said he believes the two sides will eventually come to an agreement.

“Other networks have figured it out so I’m optimistic that cable, Comcast especially, can work out a deal,” he said.