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Commentary: New Southland Conference TV network addresses several needs
The Southland Conference is trying to slice into what is becoming the cutting edge of college sports programming.
The Southland Conference Television Network, which will debut this fall along television stations and cable systems across the league’s three-state area, was born out of necessity in this rapidly diversifying world of specialty cable.
Customizing the message and focusing the marketing is the theme.
Access and control are the foundational pillars.
The SLC, which had previously had a relationship with FOX SportsNet Southwest for televised football games, had a variety of logistical and financial hurdles last year in trying to gain time slots for its games. The result was an inconsistent package heavily tilted toward Louisiana (where most of the local affiliates were) that satisfied no one. FOX often seemed more interested in a greater variety and alternative programming than Football Championship Subdivision football.
“Television production costs are skyrocketing and we had no control of what those costs were or the finances,” said Tom Burnett, SLC commissioner. “Plus, there is all kinds of competition for programming along the regional networks, all kinds of different sports and events. It was hard to work a consistent schedule into their package.”
Note that most of the conference institutions are in small- to medium-sized cities and communities in Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana (Nacogdoches, Thibodaux, Hammond, Lake Charles, San Marcos, Huntsville, Natchitoches, Conway).
“We found that these local television networks and cable systems have a looser format for programming and want local programming,” Burnett said. “We also found that in Dallas-Fort Worth, for example, FOX Sports Southwest reached only half of the households. A lot of people don’t have cable; some do but the programming is all across the board. In Texas, the competition with high school broadcasts in growing and multiplying. Some people still even watch TV with the traditional antenna.”
The answer was a broadcast network developed and controlled by the Southland Conference and marketed to local television stations and cable systems. It’s part of a growing trend throughout college football. Many of the major conferences are trying to establish their own networks.
“We found the interest and our membership took it and ran with it,” Burnett said. “We can offer three to three-and-a-half hours of Southland Conference programming where we can control the commercials and promotional elements involving all the institutions. We can create a Saturday ‘Game of the Week’ situation, something we were unable to do last year.”
The SLC network will debut with a nine-game football schedule (every team with at last one appearance, including the University of Central Arkansas’ homecoming game against Sam Houston State on Oct. 11). The last playing date is reserved for a wild card game in which SLC officials are free to select the best and/or most meaningful game for telecast.
In addition, there’s a 16-game men’s and women’s basketball “Game of the Week” Saturday schedule that also includes the conference tournament. The championship games from the SLC volleyball tournament and the 2009 baseball tournament are also in the mix.
Also included in the package are nine, 30-minute monthly magazine shows, “Inside The Southland Conference,” that will include features and highlights of all sports and spotlight the league’s campuses, communities, coaches and athletes. The SEC and Big 12 have similar shows, which usually originate from a different campus each week, on various cable networks.
“This will allow us to focus on a tell a lot of the stories of our coaches and student-athletes and their achievements that have previously gone untold and unnoticed,” Burnett said. “It will allow coaches, student-athletes and fans across the conference to know each other and their institutions a little better.”
The lead production company for the network is Jeff Watts Productions from Fort Worth, Texas, which has created more than 1,000 original programs over two decades, including live sports for SMU and the University Interscholastic League in Texas. The popular High School Xtra live television show in Texas was developed by JWP in 1992 and is the longest-running high school program in the country.
It may not be bigtime exposure but the new network seems to have a bigtime feel.
It’s progress, no doubt.
New Southland Conference TV network addresses several needs
By David McCollum, The Log Cabin Democrat (AR)