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The MVC on TV at a New Level

The new ESPN/Fox contracts will give more exposure to the MVC

The Missouri Valley Conference has been all over the ESPN family of networks the past few days. Some MVC fans stayed up late to watch Northern Iowa at St. Mary’s early Tuesday morning during the 24-hour Hoops Marathon. On Wednesday night, Evansville hosted Indiana. It wasn’t on your mom and pop’s TV, though; it was available for free through ESPN3.com. Wichita State plays Colorado tonight on ESPNU as part of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off early season tournament.

A few years ago, this exposure so early in the season wouldn’t have happened, especially with the MVC. But with more coverage options available, the league is getting a bit more play on networks such as ESPN. Throughout this season, with the combination of ESPN, Fox Sports, and other regional and national channels broadcasting basketball games, more than 130 games will involve MVC teams.

The Missouri Valley Conference signed new contracts with ESPN and Fox Sports this fall. At first glance, the contracts and the released schedule seem very similar to the past few years. But take a closer look. The Valley will be on those networks a record number of times this season, and it will only increase over the next five years along with additional distribution options.

“We were hoping to be able to lock into a longer-term contract with ESPN following the termination of the five-year agreement that ended in June 2011,” MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin told White & Blue Review. “FOX Sports has always wanted to keep the term shorter, and we have a three-year term with a mutual two-year option.”

ESPN Family of Networks

This season, MVC men’s basketball teams will be on the ESPN family of networks at least 27 times. Part of those belong to other TV packages like Evansville at North Carolina and the multi-team tournaments that Wichita State, Indiana State, and Southern Illinois are taking part in this season. At the same time, there could be additional games on the ESPN family of networks with games that are a part of BracketBusters. As a comparison to last season, the MVC schools were on ESPN networks 19 times.

ESPN3

Over the past few years, ESPN has been gradually simulcasting all of their games available on the ESPN Full Court pay-per-view package on ESPN3.com. The addition of exclusive games on ESPN3 may eventually eliminate the Full Court package. For myself, I was one that would get the ESPN Full Court package every year. This year I opted to renew my Xbox Live Gold membership at a fraction of the cost of the Full Court package and now watch ESPN3 on my big screen.

A new part of the ESPN contract includes exclusive games available only to viewers on ESPN3, the internet video streaming platform of ESPN. The ESPN3 platform will carry 6 of those types of games that involve MVC teams. In addition to the Indiana at Evansville exclusive in the non-conference, Oklahoma State at Missouri State will also be available there.

“ESPN3 is viewed as ‘the future’ at ESPN,” said Elgin. “They will be putting an enormous emphasis on this emerging platform, and college basketball fans will become accustomed to watching games via mobile devices (iPhones, iPads, etc.) and on their television screens at home — although the delivery will be via the Internet.” With those additional games Elgin also noted that “As for the ‘original’ ESPN3 telecasts that are produced exclusively for that network, those games would simply not have been produced for national distribution.”

The new contract will garner more games on the ESPN3/Full Court package as a result of the new agreement with Fox Sports and the additional local broadcasts.

Fox Sports

The other part of the MVC contract involves Fox Sports where the MVC has had a relationship with those networks for the past several years. This season, 13 men’s basketball games will be a part of the Fox Sports telecast, very similar to last year. However, the big difference this time is the expansion of the footprint of those games which was limited to the MVC six-state viewing area on the Fox regional sports networks.

With the new contract, all of the men’s basketball games not only will be available in that same footprint, but also available on ESPN3/ESPN Full Court and Fox College Sports. Having the games on the Fox College Sports channels adds another 66 million potential viewers while being on ESPN3 could draw 91 million unique internet users. This exposure is a huge gain for the MVC.

Non-Conference Games

The MVC does not produce or distribute non-conference games. At the same time, the home school for each game owns the television rights. It is up to them to decide whether they want to try and get non-conference games televised or allow the opposing schools to take those rights.

Creighton fans are probably disappointed that the games at UAB and Tulsa in non-conference play won’t be on TV. But those schools and Conference USA own those TV rights and they have chosen to just make those available through their own school’s web streaming platform due to their own TV distribution packages with ESPN and CBS College Sports/Versus.

The Missouri Valley Conference/Mountain West Conference challenge has been a great set of games for both conferences, maybe even better for the MVC in the last couple of years, but the television available has been limited. The MVC has historically not spent money to broadcast games regionally, so any of the games on their home courts in the series have been left to local TV to broadcast those games. On the MWC side of things, they have their own TV network called The Mtn., but still has some limited distribution, including Cox Cable in Omaha. The first two years of the series, The Mtn broadcasted all of the MVC/MWC Challenge games held on MWC home courts. This season, The Mtn., will only be broadcasting two of the games of the MVC/MWC Challenge — Creighton at San Diego State and Missouri State at New Mexico.

The MVC/MWC Challenge will still be in place for next season finishing their four year series agreement, but according to Elgin, look for the MVC to look for a different challenge series in the future. Those could involve challenge series with as many as three or four different conferences. More discussion will take place on this topic this winter.

Then you have the Big Ten Network and CBS College Sports that will carry 7 games involving MVC Schools. With the Big Ten schools, it is due to their schools playing in multi-team events where they bid for the television rights or games are held on a Big Ten school’s home court. With the CBS College Sports channel, their coverage is due to MTE events that they cover.

The Big Ten network will have Creighton vs. Iowa in Des Moines as part of the Dale Howard Classic. A stark difference to last season in the same Wells Fargo Arena where Iowa State ended up “winning” on a contested half-court shot at the buzzer where there was no TV and no TV monitor available for review. Bradley vs. Wisconsin is on as a part of the Chicago Invitational, and then you have Big Ten home games with Bradley at Michigan, and Drake at Iowa.

CBS College Sports has Illinois State on twice due to the Cancun Challenge and Northern Iowa vs. Providence as a part of the South Padre tournament.

There are a few other non-conference games carried by different carriers, but the non-conference part of the season still competes with college football limiting broadcast options. If the MVC has a choice, they would rather see MVC teams in conference play.

Local TV Packages

The Valley has been fortunate with local coverage of the member schools by television entities in the area. All but Evansville has some sort of local television package that has at least eight extra games on TV that many fans would not have seen a few years ago.

With local TV, Bradley has 11 games covered by their local PBS station WTVP. Creighton has 10 games of their own covered by KMTV and NET. What you find with the local coverage is double-coverage being done that helps split production costs. For example, WTVP and KMTV will both be on hand for both Bradley vs. Creighton contests. Then for Creighton’s away games that will be on KMTV, it is likely because there is a broadcast happening by the opponent TV crew as well. Games like the one at St. Joseph’s will be seen in Omaha where it likely may not have happened otherwise thanks to the local coverage by St. Joseph’s local channel on Comcast.

Wichita State will have 11 local games, Illinois State will have 7, Missouri State will have 8, Northern Iowa will have 8 with local KWWL and cable carrier Mediacom and Drake will have 8 games covered by Mediacom. Southern Illinois and Indiana State are expected to have local coverage as well likely in 8 game packages yet to be announced. Last season, Evansville had a four game package that was on a local channel, but the Aces have had very few local games on TV over the years.

An added dimension to the local coverage is the addition of ESPN3/Full Court expanding the potential exposure. Creighton, Bradley, Missouri State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa already have games scheduled to ESPN3/Full Court this season and there could still be more. The MVC’s Associate Commissioner for Marketing and TV continually works to get the local broadcasts on a national stage through those ESPN packages.

MVC Championship Game

For the past few seasons, the MVC has had the luxury of having the MVC Tournament championship game on CBS. This has been beneficial for many reasons. First, with the movement to have the championship game on a Sunday instead of a Monday (which was the case when it was on ESPN), that allows for more fans to stick around for the game. Secondly, the game on a Sunday on CBS gives a little more exposure of the Valley to others that may not have otherwise seen the MVC in action. ESPN has always owned those television rights and has partnered with CBS so they could show the games.

With the new MVC contract, ESPN still owns those television rights, but it will still be on CBS in the foreseeable future according to Elgin. “ESPN licenses the State Farm MVC Men’s Tournament championship game to CBS, and both ESPN and CBS have indicated to us that they do not see this changing any time soon. This is another great example of cooperation between networks that benefits the MVC.”

For a complete list of games on TV this season for the MVC, check out our MVC Men’s Basketball TV Schedule that will be continually updated throughout the season as new games get added to the different networks. With the NBA lockout looking to cancel the NBA season, there will be several more opportunities for games to be on TV. But in the end, the exposure for the MVC on media will be greatly expanded over the next several years.

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