October 10, 2006
The mtn.
Posted by Gordon Smith

Earlier this year, the Mountain West Conference (MWC) and College Sports Television (CSTV) announced that they would form a sports network dedicated solely to the sports of the MWC. The new network is called "The mtn."

As I understand it, this move was motivated by a desire on the part of the MWC to get a more lucrative television contract than the one offered by ESPN. Also, The mtn. would enable MWC football and basketball teams to avoid garbage-time matchups that now go to the Western Athletic Conference and other smaller conferences. (Ever notice who is playing college football on Tuesday evenings?) Finally, The mtn. would be picked up by satellite providers, thus offering national exposure to MWC sports. As a BYU fan in the hinterlands, it all sounded too good to be true.

And it was.

Over the summer, CSTV sold half of its interest in the network to Comcast Sportsnet, and the partnership has been negotiating with other cable companies and the satellite companies ever since. Though The mtn. is up and running, only a limited number of people in the intermountain west have access to it. Negotiations with the satellite companies have been a PR disaster. Among other flubs, the MWC encouraged fans to mount a grass-roots effort by contacting DISH and DirecTV, a move that was widely perceived as an attempt by the conference to compensate for its own lack of planning.

In another PR fumble, BYU announced that it would replay the broadcast of its game with Tulsa on BYU-TV, which is carried on DISH satellite. This has been a common practice in past seasons, but BYU pulled the rebroadcast on the day of the game at the request of CSTV. Those of us who tuned in were treated to a replay of BYU's 1980 win over SMU in the Holiday Bowl. Great game, but a bit dated.

Utah-based sports columnist Dick Harmon wrote today:  "If this thing was any more muddled, you'd think Congress was involved." He continues:

One thing certain is that MWC school administrators and top league officials are frustrated, disappointed and even angry. They are being made out to look like buffoons. And the ticked-off feeling they battle is nothing compared to the bottled-up, negative energy of an army of fans within the league footprint.

MWC school administrators and top league officials don't just look like buffoons. They are buffoons. This is a classic case over overpromise and underdeliver, and the PR has been mismanaged at every level. If you think that "fans within the league footprint" are angry, try polling those of us outside the footprint.

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