Will the Civil War Be Played in the Dark?

Nathan Roholt FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

Their presence on television may be dissipating, but you still see them every once in a while.  No, I’m not referring to Huskies football games in primetime, I’m talking about the memorable series of DirecTV ads that have run over the last year trashing on cable companies.  (“Don’t have a grandson with a dog collar…“)

While the ads are memorable, the cable companies might want to start their own series of rebuttal ads around the same premise.  Their tagline? “When you want to watch Pac-12 games on DirecTV and can’t, you get angry…”  And yet, if form holds, that is exactly how Oregon fans who subscribe to DirecTV and many other cable and satellite providers will feel this season.

There are only four Saturdays remaining between now and Oregon’s home opener against Nicholls State.  Yet as of today, the network that game is being carried on, the new Fox Sports 1, hasn’t reached terms with Time Warner Cable, Dish Network and DirecTV.  This means any Duck fans among their 46 million-plus subscribers will be unable to watch the season’s first game.

Some of the more casual fans might be dismissive of the necessity of watching the Ducks play an FCS team whose sole victory in 2012 came over a NAIA school, but they should be far more worried about the visibility of their last regular season game, the Civil War, which will be carried by that very same Fox Sports 1 network.

While it is not uncommon for networks and providers to still be in negotiations at this point in the season[1], present hand-wringing from fans about whether games will be available would be understandable, given the history of the Pac-12 and several television providers failing to come to terms on the conference’s own network.  DirectTV, DISH Network, AT&T U-verse and Verizon FIOS all did not make the Pac-12 Network available to its customers for all or part of the 2012 season[2].

Those with the greatest level of concern should be fans who subscribe to DirecTV.  Four of Oregon’s six games already assigned to networks are on channels DirecTV doesn’t carry, meaning Duck fans watching games at home are guaranteed to miss at least a third of the season on TV.  That doesn’t even consider the games that will be assigned on the 12- and 6-day option schedules, so potentially half or more of Oregon’s games could be unavailable to DirecTV’s 20 million US subscribers.

jmbanApproximately 1200 media members covered SEC Media Days in Hoover, AL last week.  Part of this can be attributed to the passionate nature of college football in that region, but another part of it is visibility.

While SEC schools receive less annual revenue from television contracts than schools from the Big Ten, Pac-12 or Big 12, schools from those three conferences have their TV deals split between Fox (and its subsidiaries) and ESPN, as well as having their own networks, while the SEC’s television deal is entirely on ESPN[3] and CBS.

Both ESPN and CBS are available from almost every, if not every television provider in the country.  With ESPN as the sole media beneficiary to the conference’s success (CBS’s role is limited beyond that as a network stage for the conference’s premier weekly game), the self-described “Worldwide Leader” can use that positioning to hype the conference it stands to gain the most from until it creates a separation, perceived or otherwise.

The belief from within the SEC’s footprint is that their football quality is better than every other conference, while the sentiment from those outside of it is “not as much as you think you are.”  Reputation has been as critical a factor for the SEC’s success as anything, and in an attention economy[4] where the Ducks have made themselves into one of the sport’s power brokers, how much is that reputation and visibility worth?  That’s the $3-million-extra-per-year question.

Any potential further separation between the conferences, perceived or otherwise, demonstrates why it is time for a push from Pac-12 fans to force the television providers to stop holding out.

While the Pac-12 Network has implored its fans to reach out to their providers, go one better. Cancel subscriptions to any television provider who doesn’t have the Pac-12 Networks or Fox Sports 1, and tell them why.  Don’t support them until they give fans the opportunity to properly root for their team and see every game.

These fans shouldn't be the only ones who have a chance to see the games

These fans shouldn’t be the only ones who have a chance to see the games

In 1984, the Supreme Court changed the landscape of college football by allowing individual schools and conferences to negotiate their own TV rights, and helped make college football the financial success it is today.  At the time, there were those who felt that the proliferation of games would be detrimental to college football, or as William Taaffe wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1984[5]:

“The glut is pernicious, not propitious. Unless the CFA and Big Ten and Pac-10 kiss and make up and legally curtail the number of games on TV—a dubious prospect, considering the Supreme Court ruling and the bitterness between them—the colleges will be left with a depressed marketplace. There will be no money to prop up non-revenue sports such as swimming and wrestling. The big network paydays will be over, assuming the networks remain in college football at all. As Nebraska athletic director Bob Devaney says, ‘I don’t see any great resurgence in the next year or so. I’m not predicting colleges will go broke—but it isn’t going to be the bonanza it was.'”

Instead, that decentralization ended up being one of the greatest things for college football, both for the business of the game and the fans.  Yet in 2013 we still have entities, in the form of the very television providers who were supposed to gain from that Supreme Court ruling, believing it is a good idea to prevent fans from watching the games.  It is time to show them that their shortsighted views hinder their long-term gains, proving no one wins when games are kept away from the eyes of fans.

Featured image at top of page by Kevin Cline

[1] The Pac-12 Network came to terms with many providers, including Frontier, in August 2012.

[2] DISH came on mid-season, AT&T missed all of 2012 before adding the network in May, while Verizon and DirecTV still do not carry the Pac-12 Network.

[3] The SEC Network will also be handled by ESPN.

[4] From this Grantland story here.

[5] All the credit for finding this goes to Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Staples in his article from last year.


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