The Challenge of Getting Games Televised

Written by Mark Janssen
Kansas State Official Sports Report

Late each summer, Ben Boyle, general manager of K-State Sports Properties, sits down with the Wildcat men's basketball schedule and goes to work trying to put together the best television package possible.  This year, he outdid himself.

"Our goal is to do whatever it takes to get as many of our basketball games on television as possible, and in as many places as we possibly can."

Boyle and members of the athletics department administration have orchestrated a system of four "tiers" of telecasts that will have all but one Wildcat game available for viewing in 2009-10. The one non-televised game was against Boston University at the Puerto Rico Tipoff Classic, which was the television property of ESPN.

"This will be the most games we've ever had televised," said Boyle. "We even televised our exhibition game with Pittsburg State, which we have never done before.  There are a lot of factors that go into making that happen, including a tremendous commitment of resources from our television partners and sponsors.  Couple that with an outstanding basketball program like we have and you get must-see TV."

It's in August that the major networks - ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Regional/Big 12 Network, ESPN 360, plus ABC and CBS - announce their national schedule of "First Tier" games.  The networks get first shot at any and all games through their contracts with the Big 12 Conference.

The Wildcats will have 11 network appearances this season, which has already included games against Mississippi, Dayton, Washington State and Xavier. "First Tier" games yet to be played are at Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas, Kansas, at Iowa State, at Oklahoma and Missouri.

"Second Tier" games are those selected for telecast on the "Big 12 Network," which this year will include seven appearances - at Colorado, Oklahoma State, at Nebraska, Colorado, at Texas Tech, at Kansas and Iowa State.  These games are also tied to selection through the Big 12 Conference contracts.

It's after these games are determined that K-State and all other league schools are permitted by Big 12 rules to package the remaining games into a "Third Tier" contract.  By agreement through the Big 12's network contracts, these "Third Tier" games may only be televised within a school's state boundaries and border markets such as Kansas City, Mo.

As K-State's multimedia partner, Learfield Sports/K-State Sports Properties has the rights to distribute the Wildcats' "Third Tier" games and has contracted for the telecasts to be produced and televised on FSN Kansas City for the last seven years. Currently in the first year of a new three-year agreement with FSN Kansas City, K-State's "Third Tier" contract calls for 18 exposures, including 10 men's basketball games, four women's basketball games, and two each in volleyball and baseball.

"Actually, we will be doing 11 men's basketball games this year on FSN because we were fortunate to add the UNLV game," said Boyle.

Most of those 11 FSN games this year are also on ESPN's "Full Court" subscription package at a cost of $110, which allows viewers nationwide to see the games.

"Kansas State has the rights to the home games, plus the Big 12 games played away from Manhattan are also normally not a problem," said Boyle of getting games on the "Third Tier" package. "But it's the road non-conference games that are the most difficult because we do not own the rights, and can't dictate the tip times to fit our available television windows. Plus, that team's television partner may not want to grant televising rights to the visiting team for a variety of reasons."

Saturday's 8 p.m., tipoff against Alabama in Mobile, Ala., is an example of the challenge Boyle faces in setting up a television exposure for a non-conference road game. The rights to the game are owned by South Alabama, the host team of the Coors Classic in Mobile, and Comcast Sports Channel in Alabama.

After multiple attempts to have the game televised as part of the FSN package were unsuccessful, K-State and Learfield negotiated a "Fourth Tier" telecast with Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable to get the game to a Sunflower State audience. The game will be available on Cox Ch. 98 in the state of Kansas and Time Warner Cable Ch. 20 for its approximate 300,000 subscribers in the Kansas City area.

"Cox is in 70 percent of the cable homes in Kansas, which makes it by far the major player in the state," said Boyle. "Cox is a long-time corporate partner of K-State's and we're excited about being able to work with Cox and Time Warner on this telecast and hopefully more in the future."

It wasn't that long ago that out of a schedule of 28 games, K-State would have been seen nationally perhaps one time, with another 10 Big 12 Conference games, and possibly four additional "Third Tier" games.

"As our basketball program becomes more and more prominent, it will mean more national television exposures," Boyle said.  "That will take away from our ability to package 'Third Tier' games, but will be good for our fans around the country."