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Serious Question for ESPN / MAC


Let’s not talk realignment this week, unless something real breaks.

Let’s talk about how ESPN and the MAC can leverage existing markets to get the conference exposure and hopefully make some money.

This weeks game is on CBS Sports Network, which I kind of hate. I subscribe to ESPN+ specifically for the UB content, I don’t have any subscription to CBS. So on weeks like this one, I will WECKing it (See the Bull Run Essential Glossary if you don’t know what that means).

This is a way ESPN picks up some extra cash from their deal with the MAC, sub-leasing some MAC content to other networks. It doesn’t bother me that it happens, I get that the business end of our MAC deal means ESPN has to be happy if the MAC wants checks.

But, and I’m not a business guy here, I think ESPN and the MAC are leaving the best source of revenue and fan base building coverage on the table.

I’m talking about showing games on local television via digital sub channels.

The only recent experience UB has with this was a game in Toledo which was shown on WGRZ. The ratings for the event were fantastic. The rating peaked near game’s end at 11.3. 7.8 is a higher rating than prime-time television will typically get Western New York.

It did better than many Sabres games, it did better than any other College football game in Buffalo on that weekend. It was triple the Ohio State game on channel 7 that same day.

The only things that beat out were the local and national news.

That’s the potential penetration into the Buffalo market that UB football has for ESPN. I’m sure some other MAC schools, in decent markets, would have similar results.

Let’s look at the digital subchannel offerings yesterday from one of three main broadcast stations in Buffalo when the Bulls played.

  • Channel 2-2: Reruns of “Too Close for Comfort”
  • Channel 2-3: “Most shocking Lawless ladies 3”
  • Channel 2-4: “Bo-jects”
  • Channel 2-5: “Candice Tells All”

I could go on to the other networks, but you get the idea. These subchannels are usually just junk TV put in there because our current digital over-the-air technology has a lot more bandwidth than your standard broadcast needs.

So here’s the pitch:

ESPN and the MAC approach the media markets that the schools sit in, and sell the right to broadcast a good number of the schools games over the air in those markets.

The potential markets would be markets like this.

  • Chicago (NIU)
  • Buffalo (UB)
  • Clevland (Akron/Kent)
  • Toledo (Toledo/BG)
  • Detroit (EMU)
  • Cincinnati (Miami)
  • Kalamazoo (WKU)
  • Indianapolis (Ball State)

And this get’s to the “how much would it be worth”.

ESPN is going to have to get more from the local network than they get from CBS for the occasional “sports network” game. For that matter, and the stations would have to be ok with ESPN keeping the best games for themselves, thus Buffalo vs Coastal on ESPN only, Buffalo vs Wager simulcast on local TV.

But I’d have to imagine that selling five or six games in a weekend to the local broadcast stations would garner more profit, and relevant publicity, for the MAC/ESPN than selling one to CBS which will be shown on a digital network available only to subscribers.

The gain for the ESPN could be more money, the gain for the MAC and it’s members would be more exposure to the communities around them that they hope to turn into fans.

In a pro-sports city like Buffalo you’re never going to be “the big dog” if you’re a college team. But in an Area of more than a million people you could certainly peel off enough support to fill UB stadium if folks were more aware, on a weekly basis, of what’s going on in Amherst.

It’s one thing to see a story on the news, it’s another to have the game on every week on a local broadcast station. Imagine if as many people watched the UB game in Buffalo as watch the Sabres. That, and UB’s family atmosphere / ticket prices, could certainly draw in more people.