DirecTV Sports Networks Takes Root with Big Sky Conference Rights Deal

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DirecTV Sports Networks president Patrick Crumb says the regional sports programmer plans to utilize myriad rights under its new, multiyear deal with the Big Sky Conference.
Kicking off with the 2012-13 academic year, the five-year pact, financial terms of which were not disclosed, makes DirecTV Sports Networks and its branded Root Sports regional sports networks the official TV partner and home to Big Sky football and basketball. As the national rights-holder, DirecTV Sports can distribute the Big Sky games both regionally and nationally.
The deal, announced on Jan. 17, affords Root Sports the right to produce and televise up to 18 conference football games, including the annual Montana-Montana State rivalry meeting, according to Crumb.

Under the pact, the programmer can also broadcast up to 12 regular-season conference basketball games, as well as Big Sky quarterfinal and semifinal conference men's basketball tournament tilts. Crumb said all events will be produced and distributed in the high-definition format with new state-of-the-art graphics elements customized for the Big Sky Conference and its teams.
"Our agreement with DirecTV Sports Networks and Root Sports solidifies our position as a major player in Division I football in the western United States,'' said Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton. "This is a landmark deal for the Big Sky Conference, as it will increase our exposure regionally and nationally in football and basketball. We are very excited to begin this partnership with DirecTV Sports Networks. We know our fans will appreciate the high production values, which will be second-to-none.''
Crumb said the Big Sky Conference -- in addition to Montana and Montana State, Eastern Idaho, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State and Weber State stand as circuit members -- matches up well with two of the three Roots Sports RSNs,.

"Our distributors and viewers in the Northwest and Rocky Mountain regions have consistently requested Big Sky match-ups and we are excited to bring these rivalries to a broader audience," he said in an interview. "This is an elegant opportunity because the conference's footprint lines up well with Roots Sports Northwest and Rocky Mountain. "(DirecTV Sports also owns and operates Root Sports Pittsburgh).
Crumb said he began speaking to Big Sky officials about the rights deal "late last winter, early last spring. I believe there was one other RSN group, but we were on the right page."

Through the deal, Root Sports will get the top picks for conference games.
"We'll have the first selection priority for both football and basketball," said Crumb, noting that Root Sports will look to establish a conference gridiron game of the week, most likely in the 1:30 p.m. (MT) time slot.

He said DirecTV Sports Networks plans to flank the contests with a spate of ancillary fare, including pre- and post-games, season preview programming and coaches shows. For football, Crumb is contemplating GameDay-type on-campus coverage, leading into the contests.

In the past, Big Sky football games, according to Crumb, were largely aired through a consortium of over-the-air stations in the states home to conference schools.

The new rights aside, Crumb foresees some kind of package being offered going forward. "We don't intend to warehouse games. We want more people to see the action," he said, noting there are syndication possibilities. In particular, he pointed to conference member North Arizona, which Crumb believes could attract pick-up possibilities beyond the RSNs' territories.
He also said DirecTV Sports would look to broadband streaming opportunities for fans outside the TV footprint.

Through the pact, the programmer also holds linear video on demand rights: "That's a possibility as well. We're just getting started here, but we plan to discuss the property with our distributors," a roster that not only includes DirecTV and Dish, but Comcast, Cablevision and a number of local providers as well.
The deal also grants Big Sky territorial media rights throughout Alaska, where a number of transplants from those states now reside. The rights expansion into the nation's largest state could prove useful in Root Sports Northwest's battle with GCI, Alaska's top MSO. In a license fee dispute, GCI dropped the RSN at year-end, replacing it with MLB Network, which has been positioned on a more expensive level of service. The move will shut out GCI customers from watching Seattle Mariners games, Major League Baseball's home market TV team in the state. Root Sports has launched a multimedia campaign -- encompassing print, websites and social media messaging -- in Alaska to present its position on the matter.

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