Give the Mountain West credit for having a huge set.
And we're not necessarily talking television.
Last year the Mountain West became the first I-A conference to leave ESPN. Mountain West TV (carrying league football and basketball games) kicks off in 2006 on new cable network CSTV.
|College Sports Television is trying to stay a step ahead of the copy cats. (Provided to SportsLine)|
"Us leaving ESPN was the chink in the armor," Thompson said. "They lost a client for the first time ever, so to speak. Not that we meant that much to them."
Time will tell whether the move to CSTV (College Sports Television) was progressive or ill-advised. ESPN is still the 800-pound gorilla but even it can't account for the increasingly fragmented college sports market. Conference USA followed the Mountain West to CSTV, although some of its inventory will remain on ESPN.
Sure, the Mountain West got a 71 percent rights fees increase but it also lost "reach," the pairs of eyeballs that could see its product. CSTV, which debuted in 2003, is on most major cable systems but lags far behind the Worldwide Leader in terms of viewers and clout.
"They realized they were not going to get the attention they deserved for the sports they deserved stuck as one tiny piece of ESPN's (empire)," said CSTV cofounder Brian Bedol.
One industry analyst says CSTV has a good chance to get into 60 million homes in the next year or so. Bedol says the goal is 40 million homes in the next two years.
"It's particularly a great move for a conference like the Mountain West," said the analyst, who did not want to be identified. "Without a large population base you struggle in competition against larger leagues. To create your own destiny is really a great move. There is risk associated with it, I think it's going to work."
Both sides are betting on the idea that they will get better together. The Mountain West is arguably the best non-BCS league. CSTV was founded by Bedol, Steve Greenberg and Chris Bevilacqua. Bedol and Greenberg co-founded Classic Sports Network, which they eventually sold to ESPN. It is now ESPN Classic.
Their financing includes Coca-Cola, JP Morgan and sports entrepreneur Dave Checketts.
Bottom line, college sports' television landscape is changing. Both Fox and ESPN are launching college networks. In the fragmented cable world, networks see a profit in televising Harvard crew, New Mexico State volleyball and Memphis football.