FIU vs. WKU

Western Kentucky quarterback Davis Shanley (12) hands off to running back Joshua Samuel (25) Saturday, October 27, 2018, during a game at Houchens-Smith Stadium. (Bac Totrong/photo@bgdailynews.com)

Adjusting to national cord-cutting and finding the right balance with television deals have been a challenge for Conference USA in recent years. One of the reasons Western Kentucky joined C-USA in 2014 was the appeal of TV exposure for football and the financial return it would provide to league members.

C-USA announced a deal last month it hopes will bring that exposure back on a nationally prominent platform. WKU athletics director Todd Stewart said he believes it’s a tremendous step in the right direction.

In May, C-USA announced a partnership with NFL Network for a four-year contract on a 10-game C-USA package to air one football game each week on Saturday afternoon.

WKU didn’t make the cut on that 10-game list, but will instead play 11 of its 12 games this fall on either ESPN Plus or Stadium. Broadcasting details for the Hilltoppers’ Nov. 9 game at Arkansas will be determined at a later date.

“Being on the NFL Network is huge,” Stewart told the Daily News. “We won’t be, but that’s a product of being 3-9 as much as anything, but we will be in future years. That’s great for Conference USA to be on NFL Network.”

In 2017, C-USA signed a two-year TV package with hopes of better navigating consumer trends in the sports media landscape as online streaming became a more popular option. That deal included TV partnerships with ESPN and its family of networks, CBS Sports Network and BeIN Sports USA.

Eight WKU football games will stream on ESPN+ and three will air on Stadium. CBS Sports Network, which broadcasts most of the C-USA Basketball Tournament, will still carry the league’s football championship game.

Adding the NFL Network in place of BeIN Sports is the appropriate move for all interested parties, Stewart said. The 24-hour network dedicated to the National Football League is already more accessible through TV packages than BeIN Sports.

“There were positives to BeIN, but it was still challenging,” Stewart said. “A lot of people didn’t get that (channel). It was frustrating for us at the end of the year that they weren’t sending broadcasters to the venue. It’s not really trending in the direction you’d want it to trend in. So we’ve gone from an international station that specializes in soccer to now the premier football network. Being associated with that brand will be great.”

Stewart said WKU is in talks with C-USA to use the in-house Hilltopper Sports Satellite Network to air games locally and in Louisville to better serve local interest in a traditional platform. The consistency of two networks throughout the regular season could work in WKU’s favor.

In 2018, WKU football games aired through five different outlets between ESPN families, Stadium, BeIN Sports, CBS Network and the ACC Network.

Stadium streamed one WKU football game to Facebook last year, but the outlet also provides over-the-air broadcasts locally. ESPN+ is subscription based and provides other exclusive sports content in addition to game broadcasts.

Stewart knows the wide variety of media won’t please every fan, but finding a balance is the right direction for the league.

“It’s a fine line,” Stewart said. “The streaming and Facebook watch is a wave of the future and I know it’s new. Some people like it and some people don’t. Ultimately a blend is likely what we’ll see. Our objective is to make it easy for people to find our games and have access.

“The combination of CBS, Stadium and ESPN+, for the most part, will be easy for people to find and adding NFL Network on the football side will be very good.”{&end}

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Covering the Western Kentucky University athletics beat for the Bowling Green Daily News.

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