Network deal hurts fan base

The University’s deal with the Big Ten Network fails to meet fans’ expectations.

In 1997, the University men’s basketball team lost in the NCAA Final Four. But, did this happen? Few can prove it. No banner of the season hangs from the rafters in Williams Arena. Some Minnesotans, though, still maintain the 31-4 season occurred.

A decade later, Minnesotans are again questioning if there is a men’s basketball team. Midway into the basketball season, there have been only two sightings of the team on television. Few have been able to verify these accounts, as few have actually seen the team play in recent years – the Gophers have been quite bad. After several seasons of losing basketball, many believe the program has been cut. Others, however, cite newspaper box scores as proof of a men’s basketball team. Some even say they have seen the team play in person. Apparently, as of Sunday, the Gophers are 12-5.

But why have so few seen the Gophers play this season?

The University’s athletics department agreed to a $7.5 million a year deal with the Big Ten Network, a newly created cable television network that exclusively airs Big Ten sporting events, without knowing whether Minnesotans would be able to watch Gophers sports on television. With the rights to men’s and women’s basketball, football and lesser University athletic teams, the Big Ten Network – consequently, most Gophers games – can only be seen by DirecTV and Dish Network subscribers. Comcast, Charter and Mediacom have little interest in adding the Big Ten Network due to the $1.10 per subscriber asking price by the sports network. Cable providers in Minnesota and other Big Ten states feel the cost of the station is too high for the anticipated small viewership. If an agreement is not soon reached, then cable providers will have no incentive to negotiate until the fall when the athletics season begins again after summer break.

With such limited access to watch Gophers sports on television, however, interest in University athletics will suffer.