UNLV basketball:

Deprived of seeing Rebels on TV, fans must find ways to cope

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Sam Morris

A UNLV fan cheeers surrounded by University of North Carolina fans during the Las Vegas Invitational championship game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011 at the Orleans Arena. The Rebels upset the number one ranked Tar Heels 90-80.

Driving 4 1/2 hours to Bakersfield, Calif., on a weeknight is not what UNLV basketball fan Trevor Hayes considers the ideal road trip, but he’s planning to do it on Jan. 5 for one reason.

It’s the only way the UNLV graduate will be able to see his Runnin’ Rebels play that night. Not all of UNLV’s games are televised, a source of disappointment to Hayes and other Rebel faithful.

“I know a bunch of people who are going to Cal State Bakersfield to watch us play a bad team, and it’s just because the game’s not on TV,” he said.

Just last week, Rebel faithful were denied a telecast of UNLV’s back-and-forth, double-overtime thriller of a road win over UC Santa Barbara. After hearing complaints about that game not being shown, UNLV officials made special arrangements with Cox Communications to locally air Sunday’s game at Wichita State University, which also hadn’t been scheduled to be telecast to local viewers.

The then No. 18-ranked Rebs lost that game to the unranked Shockers, but Hayes and pals were given their scarlet-and-gray fix, at least until the next viewing crisis. That happens to be Wednesday, when the Rebels play Cal State San Marcos at Orleans Arena.

So what gives with the TV schedule?

UNLV is a member of the Mountain West Conference, which controls the games played from venues within its own conference but not from nonconference settings, where there are no guarantees that road games will be beamed back to Southern Nevada. That UC Santa Barbara game? The Gauchos are members of the Big West Conference, and in college basketball the home team and its conference decide whether a game will be telecast. Big West and UC Santa Barbara officials balked at showing the game. The result: no telecast. That’s the reality of big-time college basketball.

As for the San Marcos game, the Mountain West Conference TV network doesn’t televise all interconference home games involving league teams. It’s not financially feasible, said Javan Hedlund, Mountain West associate commissioner for communications.

The conference’s TV partners "have a budget that they have to adhere to," he said. “They’re going to try to do as many as they can within that budget, but they can’t do every single game.”

UNLV is in the sixth year of a 10-year TV contract in which all of its conference games are broadcast on the Mountain West TV network. The deal pays $1.5 million annually to the eight member schools. By comparison, each Pacific-12 school earns nearly $20 million annually from its contract with the Fox Sports family of regional networks.

The financial disparity is largely driven by the Pac-12’s larger TV markets — Los Angeles, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle, among them — as well as the success of the conference’s powerhouse football teams, a double-dynamic lacked by the Mountain West, which has teams in second- and third-tier markets. The moneymaker in college sports is football and the viewers drawn by the top teams.

D.J. Allen, UNLV’s senior associate athletic director, said university officials are sensitive to the viewing needs of their fans.

“We need to find a way with all the variables that are out there for our fans to watch the Rebels on TV as much as possible,” he said. “What you’re trying to do in the sports industry is create loyal fans.”

Alternatives could include increased live Internet streaming of UNLV games. Yet even that could face roadblocks with conference officials balking against the streaming of games that conflict with games on The Mtn. cable network. Effective TV programming is about filling holes in programming schedules, and Mountain West officials do not want images from live games competing with one another.

Critics complain that The Mtn., as the conference network is known, lacks the cache of ESPN and its affiliated channels, which broadcast UNLV games in the early 2000s. Critics note that few people watch The Mtn., which isn’t offered on basic Cox cable in Las Vegas. Besides, they say, star recruits want to play on the ESPN family of networks, not a regional sports network based in Colorado Springs.

Hedlund disagrees, noting that fewer than eight UNLV basketball games were broadcast annually when the conference was affiliated with the mother ship of sports networks.

“It is it better to have four games broadcast on ESPN than 20 games on our own network?” Hedlund asked. “Maybe in some people’s minds, the answer would be yes. In others’ the answer would be no. I love having 20 games broadcast and seeing the Rebs a lot as opposed to the old days.”

Hayes said he researched other ranked college teams and found that the Rebels’ TV schedule wasn’t unusually light. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the team will play on TV more than 20 times during its 32-game regular season this year.

In another bit of good news for fans, those with access to the Big Ten Conference’s TV network can catch the Rebels on the road over the next two weekends as the team travels to Wisconsin on Dec. 10 and Illinois on Dec. 17.

Hedlund said a Las Vegas-based TV affiliate could telecast nonconference games that fall through the cracks. However, managers at local stations have their own contracts to consider — including production expenses and obligations to carry network programming.

Hedlund said the cost of producing a game ranged from $18,000 to $25,000 for a standard-definition broadcast up to $40,000 for high-def. It would also be necessary for a local affiliate to pay a rights fee for the telecast, which Hedlund said would likely be less than $10,000. Then, there are production logistics to work out — such as staffing and scheduling.

Emily Neilson eyes the economic landscape of big-time college basketball, and the president and general manager of KLAS Channel 8 in Las Vegas believes her station is an intuitive outlet for UNLV basketball games. After all, Viacom TV, which owns CBS and Turner Sports, has a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract that began this year to broadcast the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The Runnin’ Rebels’ sole regular-season appearance on CBS is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 18 when they play the New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque. The CBS Sports college cable channel also airs the occasional UNLV basketball game. Neilson would like to see more of the team’s games on her station, but putting them on isn’t easy. Multiple interests are involved, which complicates the transaction.

In the days before the creation of The Mtn., that wasn’t a problem. KLAS picked up many of the Rebels games that ESPN didn’t air.

“I’ve had a lot of viewer complaints,” said Kathy Kramer, program director at KLAS. “We used to get a lot of their games, but not anymore.”

So how deep is the local audience for UNLV basketball games? The ratings for the Runnin’ Rebels are consistent if not spectacular, said one local TV executive who requested anonymity.

“In reality, there are so many people who live here who are from somewhere else and lack an immediate connection to the university,” the executive said. “The numbers get better the more successful the team is. During the NCAA (tournament), people get behind them and watch the games.”

Nonetheless, KLAS’ Kramer is convinced that the local viewing audience could be trained to watch games much earlier in the season, particularly if the Rebels have more thrilling victories like they did against then-top rated North Carolina on Nov. 26.

“Right now, it’s pretty good with all the buzz that’s going on,” Kramer said. “I think the TV audience is out there.”

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  1. Screw the MTN. Nobody watches it or even knows it exist because it is stuck down in the 600 channels where nobody turns to. Probably the main reason top notch recruits don't want to play here is the fact that they are never on national TV. Why would they choose to come to UNLV to play when all their games are stuck on the MTN and maybe 5 or 6 of their games make it on national TV. If they choose to go to Duke, UNC, Kentucky, or UCONN all there games are televised on ESPN or CBS. The only way the Rebels make it on ESPN is if they play a team from a BCS conference like UNC, Louisiville, or Wisconsin. This will be the first year since the early 90s that the Rebels will be on regular, Saturday CBS game, and that's only one game. Outside of that you have to turn to the 600s to watch The MTN, VS, or CBS Sports TV. Get rid of the MTN, get a deal with ESPN, KLAS, and stream other games online.

  2. My heart aches for these victims! I will pray extra hard today to the One True God of my choice to rectify this terrible problem! Pray with me!

  3. Easy solution to the problem. The Rebel basketball team needs to get out of the Mountain West Conference. In basketball, UNLV would be a good fit for the Pac 12. All they would have to do would be to increase academic standards since that seems to be the Pac 12's big stickler for many of their member schools.

  4. RoboGod, Why take the time to read something that is a waste of your time... and then comment on it?

    First, I am thankful that we get to see the entire conference season on TV. As a fan, I believe this is much better for me than the previous scenario (I just hate giving Cox extra $ to get the upper stations, though).

    2nd... Do I understand correctly? The MWC splits 1.5M, but EACH PAC 12 team receives 20M in TV revenue? This means each MWC team would receive about 170k each vs. 20M each?

    3rd... The argument Networks make about conflicting schedules (when addressing why streaming conflicts with network programming) is silly to me. It's not a choice for most fans as they describe it. They act like Rebel fans would choose to watch the Wyoming game on The MTN while the Rebels are playing. NO WAY. I'm turning the TV off, and the Radio on if I can't watch my team. Ask around... the night the Rebels were playing UCSB, were ANY Rebel fans watching The MTN? I seriously doubt it. To me, it seems like they could ask a "streamer" to pay $500 and be money ahead! Am I off here?

    Last... While it seems likely that some top recruits may want to be on bigger stations, not one of our top recruits mentioned that as a priority, nor have I ever heard that as a reason for choosing a school. I think it has a lot more to do with the program and coaches than TV contracts. We currently have 4 ESPN Top 100's (AM, QT, CS, MM) and Lopez was very nearly a 5th. Next year we add #45 Top Recruit, Katin Reinhardt, and # 150 Demetrius Morant. Reggie Smith, who was 105th in Rivals.com's top recruits, will be eligible to play later this month. The #1 prospect for next year is currently considering UNLV. There are several others we could talk about, but the point is we don't need a contract with CBS, ESPN or whoever to get very, very good recruits, in my opinion.

  5. I wouldn't mind paying extra for the Mtn. if the telecast quality didn't look like the college journalism department was running it.

    The Mtn. was a great idea back in the day, but it's proven to be a major failure as fans have to pay the extra money to have it. Now with the internet, ESPN streams games on its website for free. You don't even have to be a cable subscriber. So even if games only ended up on the actual network 4 times a year, fans would probably be able to stream them now.

    A 10 year contract was dumb, and is why bYu and Utah high tailed it out of the Mountain West(even though they were high advocates of The Mtn Channel.)I'm not saying UNLV should do the same(unless a major conference wants UNLV), but the conference better figure this out.

  6. TV money and bowl money are a key component in the corruption of college sports. At least college basketball has a better system than the BCS.

  7. If the Mtn. was smart, they would get ahead of the curve and as someone mentioned, start streaming these "alternative" games. They could easily sell banner ads or something to cover the costs, and even make a little. If Wyoming is playing on the Mtn., I'm simply not going to watch it. I won't even turn it on, instead I'll be listening on the radio or following Twitter. C'mon Mtn, you have a monopoly, it's time to capitalize on it and get with the times. Otherwise, we'll follow the LV Sun blog or Twitter during games.

  8. I highly disagree with Hedlund. ESPN's coverage has gotten MUCH better the past few years with the inclusion of ESPN3 and online streaming. I can catch more HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL matches or POP WARNER football games than I can UNLV games it seems. There is something seriously wrong with that.

    ESPN3 may not be on TV, but at least I can see it, AND if I want to watch it 100 times, I can do that as well, as it allows for playback!

    Not everyone still lives in Las Vegas either, what about those of us who grew up there and moved away? I still wanna see all the games I can. If that means heading to a bar and watching it cause I don't get the channels (and it's always awkward to ask the bartender to switch it to "the mtn.") so be it. I'll do it.

    Could the Mtn, possibly start a decent quality online stream? I think not, cause even the announcers (analysts?) know jack about the teams and the players on the teams.

    /soapbox

  9. And on that note, say peace out SDSU, and Boise St to the Big East with TCU in large part to money and TV as reported on ESPN by Andy Katz.

    UNLV getting left in the dust right now, better find a home quick cause MWC teams just got knocked back down to low mid-majors again.

  10. Football is king in this country. If you want opportunities for your athletic department, then you need to have a good football team.