It came at a great cost on the field, especially in environs of Ann Arbor, but the Big Ten Network probably couldn’t have asked for more from the opening of the college football season, relative to the blitz of publicity it received.
In what was one of the biggest upsets in sports history, Big Ten Network televised No. 5 Michigan taking it on the chin strap from 1 AA Appalachain State, which took out the Wolverines 34-32 before 109,000 at the Big House.
Granted the Mountaineers had won their division championship the last two years running and were returning a ton of players on both sides of the ball. C,mon, though, they were supposed to collect their $400,000 payday and become so much scrimmage fodder as coach Lloyd Carr’s crew prepped for the Big Ten season.
Although alumni and fans are calling for Carr’s head, the game served as a calling card of sorts for BTN, which kicked off Aug. 30.
"It was easily the most talked about game of the weekend, It came at the expense of one of our schools, but the Big Ten Network was mentioned all the time," said BTN media relations manager Mike Vest. "It just goes to show we have good games on this network and you can never tell which one it will get all the attention."
Indeed, highlights and post-game interviews bore BTN logo identification on ESPN and other sports outlets throughout the weekend.
Would the publicity been as great if Michigan hadn’t had its late game-winning field goal attempt blocked?
"Probably not," said BTN VP of communications Elizabeth Conlisk, "because everyone expected Michigan.to win."
Including the oddsmakers: the Wolverines were a 46-point favorite and off the board in other betting circles.
BTN, co-owned by the member schools and Fox National Sports Cable Networks, is looking to further capitalize on the moment: 13 FSN affiliates are scheduled to air a two-hour cut-down replay of the contest tonight. The feed, featuring lead announcers Thom Brennaman and Charles Davis, will be augmented by an interview with head coach Jerry Moore.
Michigan/Appalachain State is one of 39 football games BTN is slated to air during its freshman year, but next Saturday’s Iowa/Syracuse affair may be even more important. With some 500,000 of Mediacom’s customers in Iowa, the Sept. 8 match-up at 8 p.m. (ET) could serve as a trap play for the cable operator.
Mediacom and Fox Cable butted helmets last Thursday over the rights to Iowa State’s season opener versus Kent State, with gamesmanship rampant on both sides. In previous years, Mediacom has aired the Cyclones season opener, but claimed Fox, which controls Big 12 rights, denied it access this time because of its distribution dispute with BTN. However, the parties continued to talk Friday and Fox lobbed out another statement, far more conciliatory in tone.
The Hawkeyes/Orangemen contest may just be the lever the parties to bridge their differences over positioning and price — Fox is said to be seeking a monthly $1 per subscriber fee and an expanded basic locale for BTN in the seven conference states and some 10 cents per customer and tier placement outside of the conference territory — that have also kept Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Charter off the service’s distribution roster. Can Mediacom afford not to carry the game in an already strong area for DirecTV?
In addition to the DBS leader, BTN also has carriage accords with AT&T U-Verse, Insight (in select markets, including Columbus, home to the Ohio State Buckeyes) and 100 small cable operators and municipal providers.