Thursday, December 21, 2006

The America Channel To Broadcast Patriot League Sports

Thought I was was going to simply shout out a big "Happy Holidays", eh, or talk about the big basketball games yesterday? Although I will spend some time doing both - and I'll also give a thought to some interesting postings for the rest of the year - the first order of business involves a bit of news you may not have heard about.

Five days before Christmas, there was a press release from a fledgling network called the America Channel. It stated that they had entered a multi-year agreement to broadcast Patriot League sports starting in the 2007 season. Here are excerpts from the Patriot League press release:

The Patriot League has signed a multi-year deal with a new national-sports broadcaster, The America Channel, Patriot League Executive Director Carolyn Schlie Femovich announced Wednesday. The arrangement, which will begin with the 2007-08 academic year, will bring additional exposure to the Patriot League, specifically in the sports of football, women's basketball and women's volleyball.

"We are excited about the increased visibility that this partnership will generate for the Patriot League and its institutions," Schlie Femovich said. "In addition, The America Channel will provide the viewing audience with a real-life perspective on the students and student-athletes of the Patriot League and its mission toward balancing excellence in academics and athletics."

In addition to game coverage, The America Channel will also tell the Patriot League story from each of the campuses as part of its new SportsLife initiative. The America Channel along with the Patriot League and its constituents will create video content about the aspirations, achievements, challenges, adventures, community service and lifestyles of its scholar-athletes.

In addition to the Patriot League, the other leagues involved in this blockbuster deal are three other football conferences (the Colonial Athletic Association (formerly the A-10), the Big South, the SoCon, and Big Sky), and four non-football conferences (the Big West, America East and Atlantic Sun conferences). Now, I don't know about you, but this gets my mind turning. What does this mean to our existing TV contracts? What is the America Channel? Is there a way to get this channel on my broadcast station? What are they planning? Of course, by announcing this five days before Christmas it's a near-certainty that I won't get many answers to my questions, but I'll distill what I know so far.

What is the America Channel? It's a network who "was founded with a single idea: tell the ever-unfolding story of America through the eyes of real Americans." It's not really a sports network: it's a channel devoted to seeing what America is. Think John Ratzenberger's "Made in America" and Charles Kuralt's old "On the Road" for CBS This Morning, and you'll have an idea what type of programming they're going for.

So where do sports fit into this? Good question. The idea is that they have the broadcast rights to (for starters; it could be expanded) football, women's basketball, and women's volleyball. This is my biggest question for the folks at the America Channel, but I haven't gotten a response yet from their offices. But from the looks of it they're not really going to have a sports department (or a Saturday show called "Football Championship Series Today") - they're simply buying the rights to rebroadcast the games.

How does it affect any existing TV agreements, for example, Lehigh's broadcasts on Fox College Sports? The answer to this comes from the Patriot League office: it will not change at all. If you enjoy broadcasts on Fox College Sports or Lafayette Sports Network, you'll continue to be able to watch them there. So there's no real downside, to the league or the schools. It's simply another place to watch the broadcasts.

How can I get this network? The network hasn't been launched yet, but it is the spearhead of an aggressive trade association (the Association of Independent Programming Nets) that has been fighting to break into distribution with major cable packages. Called a "rebel rouser" by CableFax daily, they have been politically active in asking for things like "a la carte" channel selection (basically, allowing viewers to pick and choose the channels they want) and other such industry issues. They were set to launch in November 2006, but the launch date has been delayed to either summer 2007 or even November 2007. It has to be said: despite their leadership with industry veterans, it's unclear if the channel will be on your local cable system any time soon - if ever.

Is this good for the Patriot League? Absolutely yes. There is no downside. It is the status quo plus one more broadcast channel to potentially tell the story of the Patriot League. And anything to get Patriot League football in front of more eyes - especially with no reduction in coverage from anyone else - is great by me.


Next week, I'll be resuming my talk about Lehigh men's basketball (who yet again came oh-so-close to upsetting a great team in Rutgers yesterday 76-71) and women's basketball (who, predictably, got drilled by NC State 66-34). And next week, with any sort of luck I'll be putting together my Lehigh Players of the Year and looking a bit ahead to our football needs for 2007.

But for now, I wish all my readers out there Happy Holidays, and see you next week!
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