Inside Gopher Athletics: Getting It Right on Broadcast Rights

Oct. 31, 2017

By Mark Coyle

Our men's hockey team took the trip up Interstate 94 to visit Grand Forks and the University of North Dakota for the first time in five years earlier this month. Following the rebirth of the Big Ten men's hockey conference, many fans feared that the legendary rivalry with UND would die. The athletics department received a lot of calls and emails imploring us to find a way to keep the series alive. Just like our fans, we were excited to get North Dakota back on our schedule a few years ago.

While the traffic around that issue dwarfed what we saw leading into the latest meetings between the two programs, we received plenty of calls and emails leading from fans angered to find that this season's two-game set wouldn't be on television in much of Minnesota.

We share our fans' frustration and disappointment with that situation. We want to have every men's hockey game available on TV but we do not have complete control over that. The home team controls the broadcast rights to each game. All 19 regular season Gopher home games are on TV across much of Minnesota (and beyond) this year. Those are the games we control. North Dakota controls the broadcast rights for its home games. Those rights were sold to a network that doesn't provide coverage in many areas of Minnesota. We hoped this broadcast partner would work out deals with providers in Minnesota but, generally speaking, these providers were unable to come to an agreement. Unfortunately, this meant most Gopher fans were unable to watch either game of the series on television.

In a similar vein, we have received questions about the recent announcement that our football team hosting Indiana in a Friday night Big Ten game next season (Oct. 26, 2018). This will be the first Friday night football game for the Gophers in nearly 15 years, and the first-ever in TCF Bank Stadium.

The Big Ten began expanding its broadcast schedule to include Friday night games this season, the realization of a plan that was in motion when I became AD. We expressed a preference to either play Friday night games on the road or during MEA weekend, a weekend where high school football does not play on Fridays in Minnesota. That would still be our preference but those decisions are made by the conference. We will honor our responsibility as a member of the Big Ten and play the conference schedule we are assigned by the league.

It's worth noting, the weekend we were assigned to play is traditionally a playoff weekend for Minnesota high school football, meaning that there are limited Friday night games that week.

Back to my original point - what do these items have in common?

While we would sometimes prefer to have our games televised on particular networks, or to have our games played on particular days or particular times, those decisions are often beyond the control of our athletics department.

Broadcast, in a variety of forms, has a bigger voice than ever before in major college athletics. Broadcast rights provide significant revenue for almost every major athletics department. In our case, that money helps us support a world-class collegiate experience for more than 720 Gopher student-athletes.

While recognizing that this can occasionally leave some fans wishing for a better solution, we also have to recognize that these are situations navigated at most Division I schools in the country. We will always do what we can to have our preferences heard, but we will not always have the final say.

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