Gophers search for cable home

ESPN is searching for a new local cable carrier to broadcast Gophers games.

When Victory Sports One folded in early May, Gophers football and men’s basketball were left without a local cable television home.

Now, more than three months later, they still don’t have one – and there’s nothing University athletics officials can do about it.

ESPN Regional Television owns the rights to all Big Ten football and men’s basketball coverage. The network then sells the rights to games it does not broadcast to local television outlets.

Victory Sports One’s demise means ESPN must find another local buyer for Gophers games.

University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said Fox Sports Net North is the University’s preferred cable carrier.

“It’s the best option available to the Gophers, and it’s a very good best option,” Maturi said.

FSN North spokesman Greg Phillips said the network is interested in acquiring the rights to Gophers games, and negotiations with ESPN Regional are ongoing.

Phillips said FSN North wants to finalize a deal sooner rather than later, but the station has not set a timetable.

“I would hope we’d know something this week or next,” he said.

But as the Gophers’ Sept. 4 football opener draws near, Maturi said he is starting to watch the calendar.

“And rightfully so,” Phillips said. “I can understand where he’s coming from.”

Last year, many cable providers did not carry Victory Sports One, leaving most Gophers fans unable to watch games. Maturi said he wants to avoid similar problems this year.

“Hopefully, we will be able to broadcast all of our games, at least locally,” he said. “We want our state’s people to see our games and get that exposure to Gophers football and basketball.”

Though three of the Gophers’ first four games are scheduled to appear nationally on ESPN2,

Maturi said he still wants a deal done as soon as possible.

But Phillips said a deal between FSN North and ESPN Regional is not imminent.

“I would not make that assumption at all,” he said. “You’ve got to wait and see how these things play out.”

Football marketing

This year’s football marketing budget stands at roughly $225,000 – up about $25,000 from last year, according to Associate Athletics Director Mark Coyle, who oversees the marketing department.

The department spent $75,000 for advertisements on billboards throughout the Twin Cities, $10,000 for ads on the sides of Metro Transit buses and

another $10,000 to print yard signs promoting Gophers football.

Another line of ads featured on the backs of eight Coca-Cola trucks delivering around campus had to be changed because of NCAA rules.

The ads, like the billboards and bus sides, featured running backs Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney.

But after consulting with NCAA officials, it was

decided that the ads were an “implied endorsement” for Coca-Cola, University athletics compliance director Frank Kara said.

NCAA regulations stipulate that student-athletes’ images cannot be used to promote commercial products, Kara said.

The athletics department pulled the ads, replacing them with ads featuring Goldy Gopher, Kara said.

There was no NCAA rules violation because the rule was unclear, and the ads were stopped as soon as the NCAA ruled that they would be a violation, Kara said.

Video boards for arenas

The athletics department wants to purchase new video boards for Williams Arena and Mariucci Arena, Athletics Director Joel Maturi said.

The video boards are part of the scoreboards, but the University will not replace the entire scoreboards. The new video boards would enable the University to show instant replays.

“Today it’s not just about the game, it’s about entertaining the fans, and we’re way behind times,” Maturi said.

“We need to give our fans more than they’ve been getting for the price of their tickets,” he said.

The department has not yet approved the purchase and does not know how it will pay for the video boards, which will likely cost $1 million to $1.5 million, Maturi said.

The boards should also generate increased advertising revenue, he said.

Goldy’s V.I.P. sales

Initial sales of the new Goldy’s V.I.P. all-sport student pass have been strong, University ticket manager Dan Teschke said.

The $50 pass covers admission to all University athletics events except football, men’s hockey and men’s and women’s basketball.

The pass costs $25 when purchased with a $50 student season ticket for football.

Teschke said the pass allows students to sample a variety of University sports.

Students who plan to purchase season tickets to any of the non-revenue sports might want to purchase Goldy’s V.I.P. instead, Teschke said. For example, volleyball season tickets cost $42, so a student could buy the all-sport pass for $8 more, he said.