ESPN increases WAC sports coverage with new extended deal
Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson announced yesterday that the conference has reached an agreement to extend its current television rights contract with ESPN through April 2017.
More than 300 regular-season contests and a minimum of 45 championship events will be broadcast on the ESPN networks over the next nine years, including women's regular-season games in volleyball, basketball and softball for the first time.
"I'm thrilled the WAC and ESPN see an importance of adding more exposure for women's sports on a national level," Hawaii women's volleyball coach Dave Shoji said. "As the popularity of women's sports has increased by large numbers over the years, we are getting closer to a time when our female athletes get to share the national spotlight with their male counterparts. I'm glad that the WAC has taken proactive steps that will not only help the teams in our conference, but also the growth of women's sports in general."
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, although Benson did say, "it was significant with a significant percentage increase."
ESPN has televised an average of 10 WAC football games per season since 2003. The new deal will increase that number to a minimum of 16 games a season, and guarantees at least one appearance for all nine schools on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. Ten of the games will be on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC and six on ESPNU.
"For the past five years, WAC football has benefited greatly from the exposure it has received from ESPN," Benson said. "And in turn, the WAC has provided ESPN with some great games and some great ratings."
Last year's game between Boise State and Hawaii was the highest rated game all season on ESPN2.
The deal also guarantees a minimum of 12 men's basketball regular-season games each year to be shown, as well as at least one quarterfinal and semifinal game to go along with the tournament championship. Only three games were shown under the old deal.
The women's basketball and volleyball tournament championships will also be aired each year.
"I think the additional exposure for the WAC is fantastic," Hawaii athletic director Jim Donovan said. "It'll have a positive impact on all of the institutions in the WAC.
"It's a balance between revenue and exposure, and the additional exposure could lead to more revenue. The more exposure you get, we'll get better and better recruits, which leads to better teams and more ticket sales. Branding the WAC is extremely important and ESPN is the biggest brand out there. And for us to have a contract with ESPN, that's going to be huge for the WAC's brand perception."
The deal comes on the heels of one of the most successful two-year periods in conference history.
"Beginning on Jan. 1, 2007, with Boise State's dramatic win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl that resulted in both an ESPY and an Emmy, to Hawaii's perfect season last fall and a spot in the 2008 Sugar Bowl ... and of course Fresno State's incredible run to the College World Series and a national championship, to cap it off with this extension with ESPN truly shows the WAC has reestablished itself as one of the premier college sports conferences in the country," Benson said.
The old deal was set to expire after the 2009-10 school year.
"We too at ESPN are very excited at the prospect of this announcement and the potential that this new agreement and extension holds for our company," ESPN senior vice president Burke Magnus said. "As they have provided good content and great ratings for us, we recognize the need to reward them and extend them with certainty in distribution exposure and financial security."