After weeks of negotiations, the University of Arizona finalized a television broadcast deal for football and men's basketball games.
IMG (the company that brokers the UA's media-broadcast packages) and Journal Broadcast Group agreed to form the Arizona Wildcat Sports Network.
"This partnership between the University of Arizona and Journal Broadcast Group helps us fulfill the commitment we made to be the best local broadcast company serving Tucson," said Journal Tucson general manager Julie Brinks in a story on Journal-owned KGUN Channel 9.
The deal this season will include at least two football games: The season opener, at home against Central Michigan (Sept. 5), and the second home game, against Northern Arizona University, the following weekend.
Those games, and at least 13 men's basketball games, are scheduled to be broadcast live on KWBA Channel 58/Cable Channel 8, Journal's CW network affiliate, and tape-delayed on KGUN.
While neither side released contract particulars, it's likely that Journal can more easily readjust its network programming deal with the CW; pre-empting ABC primetime programming would be more problematic.
Games will also be broadcast on 58.2, KWBA's Spanish-language digital subchannel, and throughout the state on KSAZ Channel 7/Cable Channel 13, which, while licensed in Prescott, has a strong presence in Phoenix.
Through the deal, the TV stations will pay for the opportunity to carry the games, while IMG will sell the advertising and pay for production of the broadcasts. According to sources familiar with the IMG pitch, four production outlets, one local, have placed bids to produce the broadcasts, which could run anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 per game.
IMG and Journal came to terms after efforts to renew the UA's deal with Fox Sports Arizona fell through. Fox trimmed its involvement with UA athletics seemingly every year, focusing more and more on Phoenix-based sports, highlighted by its 75-game deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The network is still under contract with Arizona State to broadcast Sun Devil games.
One telling aspect of Fox's waning interest in the UA involves its production agreement with Sean Mooney's Moonrise Productions, which put together a number of programs as a complement to Wildcat games. Mooney's Wildcat Rewind shows were reduced by two-thirds from the beginning to the end of the deal—and Fox Sports had decided to cut Mooney out of the picture entirely this season.
Insiders also say that Fox Sports had difficulty getting a legitimate viewing read on advertising in Tucson, because it isn't yet a metered market. In Phoenix, television-viewing habits can be made available the next day. Tucson does not have that luxury—and, therefore, brokering advertising rates becomes a trickier undertaking.
The problem for IMG was wooing a television outlet that could find the airtime to broadcast games live. In the days of three networks, that was easier to do, but with the addition of networks such as Fox, the CW and myNetworkTV, the independent-TV model is all but extinct. Affiliates, meanwhile, generally have contractual obligations to play the primetime lineup during primetime.
The deal is certainly a good one for Journal. It gives the organization a public-relations boost and allows the outlet an opportunity to pitch other programming on KWBA, which often struggles in the ratings.
The television package also includes The Mike Stoops Show, The Sean Miller Show, seven magazine shows (similar to Mooney's Wildcat Rewind programs) and the option of broadcasting other athletic events such as volleyball and softball games.
"The cable penetration in the marketplace is only 55 percent, so that leaves 45 percent of the folks who weren't even able to receive the games in the past, so this brings it back to the local community," said Brinks in the KGUN story—incidentally, citing numbers that are only partially true. An estimated 55 percent of the Tucson market has cable, but Fox Sports Arizona is also available on satellite, so when that is incorporated into the equation, actual FSN market penetration in Tucson area households could come closer to 90 percent.
"We feel from research this is one of the first-of-its-kind over-the-air networks," said IMG's Brent Seebohm (who did not respond to Tucson Weekly interview requests by deadline) in the KGUN story. "Other athletic programs are aligned with regional sports networks and cable systems, but this is a new trendsetter-type direction."
There are those who would argue that this trend is not beneficial for the overall well-being of UA sports. For Wildcat fans who live in Arizona, the deal is certainly positive, but there are concerns that the agreement could be detrimental to UA recruiting. Arizona does much of its recruiting in places like California and Texas, and thanks to Fox Sports, many of those games could be available for viewing—but satellite and cable-sports packages won't include the Wildcat Sports Network. The detractors' thought process: If a recruit's family members don't have consistent access to the product, it might be a better fit for a prospect to attend a school with a more traditional on-air package.
The real impact of that, of course, won't be determined for years.
The IMG deal also includes an online subscription service, meaning games can be viewed for a fee via the university's Web site.
Aldona Sprei, the owner of KJLL AM 1330, passed away last week from complications relating to a lengthy illness.
Sprei purchased the Jolt nearly 12 years ago, and it remains one of the market's rare stand-alone radio operations.
"I decided to go with a news/talk format, because at the time, there was only one station that offered it, and that was KNST," said Sprei in an interview with the Tucson Weekly in November 2007, while the station was celebrating its 10th anniversary. "We were the second one that came into the market. I wanted something that was an alternative, something that was a choice, because there wasn't a choice at that time. We weren't a part of a big ownership group, so we went with being local and trying to be the pulse of the community."