Ore., Ala., Stations Score With BCS Game

Even though the BCS Championship Game between the Oregon Ducks and the Auburn Tigers is on ESPN, stations in the schools' home territories were making hay (and revenue) by producing pregame specials and live reports that were finding eager advertisers. Said KMTR Eugene, Ore., GM Cambra Ward:  "Getting this kind of advertising opportunity in the first days of January is great for us."

Last Thursday a reader on the Portland Oregonian’s website predicted that tonight’s BCS Championship Game between the Oregon Ducks and the Auburn Tigers was going to set viewership records, but being a practical guy, said it probably would not beat the Super Bowl.

And at Stub Hub, demand was so high it quit selling tickets last Wednesday and began offering to buy tickets back at three times what it had sold them for before—unprecedented for the Web-based ticket agency. (The recession must be over.)  

This game has the makings of a classic. It matches two undefeated teams, geographically bookended—Way Down South versus Might As Well Be Canada West. A Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback vs. a rapid fire offense. The Big Battle of the Voweled Helmets.

Unfortunately, broadcasters will not be airing the game. Having picked off the rights to all the majors from Fox a couple of years, ESPN will handling the game, which could, indeed, become the most watched program in cable history, surpassing the 21.8 million who watched the Minnesota Vikings-Green Bay Packers matchup in October 2009.

But that doesn’t mean that all broadcasters will be sidelined.

“I can’t imagine there will be any television sets in all of Oregon not tuned to the game,” says Mark Hatfield, managing director of news and programming for Chambers Communications’ KEZI Eugene, the ABC affiliate in the Ducks’ hometown. “It’s huge for us.”


Hatfield sent his “entire sports department” and anchors to Arizona — six in all — and scheduled an hour-long pregame special. Is that it, I asked. “Hey, an hour-long special from a hundred-something size station! Isn’t that enough?” Hatfield responds. Well, of course it is. I was more impressed about sending six staffers.   

Jesse Grear, general manager of WNCF, the Sagamore Hill Broadcasting ABC affiliate in Montgomery, Ala., says his town is revved up for the game too, though Montgomery viewers kind of divide their allegiances between the University of Alabama and Auburn. “The very first thing they ask you when you come to this market is, ‘Who you for? Auburn or Alabama? I’m not kidding.”

The station has also dispatched a team to follow Auburn and produce live reports every night and a special leading up to the game. “Any program involving Alabama or Auburn does pretty well in this market,” he says. “You can sell that in five minutes.”

At KVAL, the Fisher CBS affiliate in Eugene, Ore., General Manager Greg Raschio also scheduled a pregame special and put together a package for 10 advertisers that got them positions in the special and within newscasts the week before that were heavily Duckified.

“There seems to be an interest level for this game that supersedes just the schools and the local towns,” Raschio says.

At Newport’s NBC affiliate in Eugene, KMTR, General Manager Cambra Ward last week was excited that Ellen DeGeneres sent a crew to the Oregon campus to get video of students at a Ellen-induced rally which was featured on Friday’s show. Cambra’s also sold two advertisers on the station’s coverage from Arizona.

“Frankly, getting this kind of advertising opportunity in the first days of January is great for us,” Ward says.

Even though ESPN and ABC are owned by Disney, ABC affiliates in Eugene and Montgomery were not offered the opportunity to simulcast the game. It would seem to be a kind of sporting/collegial thing to do, and would barely make a dent in ESPN’s ratings, and frankly, you’d have thought the NCAA would have insisted on it.  

I asked ESPN about it and got this statement: “All BCS games will be available to almost 100 million homes on ESPN as well as through and ESPN radio. We are confident that fans will find and enjoy these games, the culmination of our year-round commitment to college football.”

If you’re wondering how it is that NFL Monday night games on ESPN are shown on ABC affiliated stations in the competing teams’ markets, an NFL spokesman explains that’s the NFL’s contract language, not ESPN’s.

So who’s going to win?

As a longtime TV writer and editor, I have to turn to Nielsen market rankings in handicapping the contest. Eugene is DMA 118, but Montgomery is DMA 117. My call: Auburn in a close one.


Market Share by P.J. Bednarski, all about TV sales and TV sales people, appears every other week in TVNewsCheck. Bednarski is longtime TV reporter and a former top editor at TV Week and B&C. If you have comments on this column or ideas for future ones, contact him at [email protected] Read earlier Market Share columns here.

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matt fess says:

January 10, 2011 at 11:23 am

Again, goes to show you how the public ends up getting shafted twice. They pay ESPN $4.00 per household per month for satellite or cable which gets ESPN so much money monthly that they can outbid the Networks for the rights to air them, and then the public is forced to pay for subscription service to watch these games that used to be available for free over the air to anyone who wanted to watch them. When will the public and Congress get this?! ESPN is bidding right now for the Olympics. Where in the world do they get so much money to do this? From charging consumers for carriage. How can Time Warner scream over paying broadcasters 50 cents a month and not about paying ESPN 4 bucks a month? 80% of viewing goes to broadcasters and less than 5% to ESPN? I do not know of a single female that watches ESPN. 50% of the country right off the top do not watch it and yet the alternative delivery systems pay ESPN 4 bucks a month. First went Monday Night Football, then the BCS series and next the Olympics? Consumers are being forced to pay for things they used to get for free. Where are all the politicians who look for ways to help their constituents? This should be a no brainer. Let the broadcasters negotiate in union so that they are paid what they are worth so they can keep all these great programs. ESPN is worth a dime a month, not 4 bucks.

Jeff Groves says:

January 10, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I “Cut the Cord” four years ago, because I decided Cable was no longer worth paying for. Taking away Sports from Free TV WILL NOT entice me to return. This is nothing more than CORPERATE GREED. The Rich continue to get richer, at the expense of the Poor. 🙁