BCSN isn’t quite ESPN, but don’t tell that to sports viewers in the Toledo, Ohio DMA. Since Jan. 7, Buckeye CableSystem has been supplying its subscribers with local sports coverage around the clock, focusing on area professional, collegiate, semipro, amateur and high school action.
Tipping with an Owens Community College women’s basketball game, Buckeye Cable Sports Network — Your Eye on Local Sports — is committed to showing at least 20 events per week, many live, including 50 games of baseball’s Toledo Mud Hens, the Detroit Tigers’ Triple A farm club.
Game replays, as well as simulcasts of sports talk and news from WLQR-AM “The Ticket,” round out the 24/7 schedule, which network officials believe is the most comprehensive of its kind in the nation.
The network, positioned on Channel 8, is the brainchild of Allan Block, chairman of Buckeye Cable, which serves 135,000 subs in northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan, and managing director of parent Block Communications Inc.
“Allan saw a market, that there was an opportunity to do something locally that no one else was doing,” said Tom Dawson, director of government and community affairs for Buckeye Cable.
“This is a great way for people in the community to see their kids and their friends’ kids play.”
BCSN has roots in another Block property, WTO5, an independent station that serves as the area’s WB affiliate. Over the past five years, WTO5 had aired a game of the week matchup, featuring Ohio high school football and basketball contests at 11:30 p.m. on Friday nights, followed by Saturday encores. The station had also presented a small package of Mud Hens games.
To get the operation running, Block made an initial $1.5 capital investment. Part of those costs were allocated to a trio of mobile production trailers that relay live event coverage to Buckeye headends via fiber optics, or record games that are then taped digitally in the studio, according to BCSN general manager Nancy Duwve.
Transmission is also facilitated by the multimillion-dollar rebuild Buckeye conducted late in the last last decade. Fiber is now fed directly into many of the sports venues in the Buckeye service area.
Duwve said BCSN has a staff of 40, comprising administrative, field, crew and talent personnel, including interns from Toledo and Bowling Green University.
“One of the big concerns we had was whether we could find enough professionals to deliver the kind of high-quality coverage that Mr. Block wanted from BCSN,” said Duwve. “We’ve been very pleased with the look and our staff and crew have been very dedicated and quick to learn.”
Neither Duwve or Dawson would disclose an annual operating budget for the network, or say when it is expected to turn a profit.
“The primary goal is not to make money, but to do something nobody else could do,” said Dawson.
Buckeye has held discussions with Time Warner Cable’s neighboring Western Ohio division, but has not yet closed any carriage deals for BCSN.
The network is capturing the attention of the communities it serves, according to the BCSN executives.
“The high-school kids like to watch their own games, or see their friends play. And it’s the same thing for parents,” said Dawson.
Reception has also been strong on the sponsor side. Vice president of advertising sales Steve Piller said the network had six companies committed to annual deals totaling $200,000 before the “lights went on.”
Subsequently, BCSN has sold another 10 annual packages worth an additional $218,000 and the net is pursuing eight such deals, which Piller expects to close by midyear. Upon finalizing those pacts, Piller’s staff will be working the market “month by month.”
To date, BCSN has been running between six and eight 30-second units per hour, an inventory level that can be expanded as games and demand warrant. Piller counts a trio of area car dealerships (“We’re not looking for more right now,” he said), Catholic high schools, a sports fitness center, cellular phone service Cricket, National Citibank, and local discount retailer The Andersons, among BCSN’s clients.
Through a revenue-sharing arrangement, the network is also selling packages for the Mud Hens games, 25 of which will air live. Although the club is the most high-profile team in BCSN’s tent, local appeal is the main driver.
“People want to see their kids kicking that soccer ball and the advertisers want to be part of that programming,” he said.
While the ad group continues to build its roster, the network is still working out kinks in the field during its rookie year.
“We do hockey and wrestling well and we’re starting to get our hands around girls softball, both fast-pitch and arc,” said Duwve. “But we have to get better with track. There aren’t any rosters handed out and there’s a lot of action going on at once.”
Looking ahead to summer, when there are fewer intercollegiate and interscholastic games, Duwve said BCSN would offer up coverage of high-school rowing, swimming and diving competitions held at private schools, local tennis-club action and some Little League games.