SPORTS: How much will we pay to watch IU, Purdue?

July 2, 2007

It read, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get."

That's the way I feel about technology. For every step I take forward, I fall two behind.

A couple of weeks back, my trusty home laptop computer broke down. So, nearly, did I, especially as I pitched myself into the world of repair (it could've been fixed, but it was price-prohibitive) and then into retail (did the salespeople notice how my eyes glazed over as they launched into their wi-fi, gigabyte-laced pitches?).

I finally chose a model that, best I can decipher, will suit my needs. This column is being written on it so, if you're reading this, so far, so good.

This past Christmas at the Benner home, we did another techno leap into the world of high-definition television. It's extraordinary and I'm ecstatic, even if I've mastered only about half the buttons on the remote.

Oh, and I've got those hundreds of channels even though when I click on many of them, the screen tells me I've got to pay more if I want 'em.

Which brings me to the wonderful world of televised sports. Ah, it used to be so simple. A game of the week on the networks. And Indiana and Purdue on Channel 4.

Now, we've got hundreds of channels and "pay tiers" and six or seven varieties of ESPNs and FSNs.

But when it came time to watch Indiana and Purdue play basketball on my pricey HDTV, there were no buttons on my fancy remote I could punch that would bring it in.

Here I was "subscribing" to dozens upon dozens of channels, but not the one carrying Indiana-Purdue in basketball.

So pardon a simple guy who likes to watch Big Ten sports if I get a little nervous as I listen to the increasingly loud debate between the cable companies and the Big Ten about who gets the Big Ten Network-and how much it will cost-when it launches next month.

So far, the cable guys-probably not the most loved group in the world-seem to be winning the public relations battle as well as wielding most of the leverage. You see, no matter how good the new network might be in terms of content (and there's some dispute about that), the league still must convince the cable systems to pick it up and deliver it into our homes.

Therein lies the rub. The Big Ten is convinced it has a hot commodity, but the cable systems, including the biggie, Comcast, are giving the league the cold shoulder.

The Big Ten is demanding that cable systems include its network on the basic cable package and charge a dollar per customer. That means every customer. Comcast alone has 6 million subscribers in Big Ten country.

The cable guys have countered with an offer that would make the BTN part of a premium tier of sports-related digital programming and charge only those who "subscribe"-there's that word again-for $4.95 a month.

Comcast officials irked Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany when they labeled the BTN a "niche sports channel" that will get only the left-behinds after the Big Ten's other network partners-ABC, CBS, ESPN and ESPN2-have had the first choice of prime programming.

And prime programming, of course, means football and men's basketball.

Let's be honest. Those who want the BTN aren't likely to do so in hopes of viewing a triple-double cross-country meet. The Big Ten also has pledged to do a 50/50 programming between men's and women's sports. It's a noble gesture and the right thing to do, but, candidly, it won't attract viewers in the male-dominated landscape of televised sports.

At stake is more than a regional squabble, and you can bet the other so-called power conferences are closely watching the Big Ten/Comcast battle. If the Big Ten is able to get its way, and its money, it is certain to blaze a trail other leagues will try to follow.

I understand the need for the conference to squeeze every penny it can from its sports programming. The network is a bold step by the league and it has promised to return a pile of money to the schools. IU, for example, already has earmarked BTN revenue to help with the costs of its facilities upgrades.

In the meantime, the high-profile posturing will lead to an agreement that will deliver money to both the Big Ten and the cable systems and saps like me will dig deeper into our wallets.

Dang, I miss Channel 4.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
Source: XMLAr03900.xml

Recent Articles by Bill Benner

Comments powered by Disqus