UL Lafayette exploring options for regional TV deal

Photo credit: University of Louisiana at Lafayette

University of Louisiana at Lafayette athletic director Scott Farmer had hoped to have a regional TV deal with Cox Sports Television in place before the start of the 2015 season, if not sooner.

Not anymore.

Instead, according to Farmer, the two sides remain unable to overcome a hurdle presented by the Sun Belt Conference’s primary television-rights contract with the ESPN family of networks.

So now UL is considering an alternative plan.

“We’re actually starting to explore maybe putting together a network that would kind of be an ‘(Interstate) 10 corridor’ from the Panhandle (of Florida), Mississippi, Louisiana into Houston — just trying to cover our recruiting base, for now, because we’re kind of stuck,” Farmer said during the Sun Belt’s annual football Media Day on Monday at the Superdome here. “We can’t seem to get past where we are, and that’s kind of frustrating.

“(It) might end up being like a radio network — you go and negotiate with a system in that area, and grab that system, then go to the next area you want and negotiate that. It might be something like that.”

UL’s current Ragin’ Cajun Radio Network, flagshipped for football in Lafayette by KPEL 1420 AM, includes affiliate stations in New Orleans, Shreveport, Monroe, Lake Charles, Jennings and Thibodaux.

The contract between the Sun Belt and ESPN essentially states that individual conference-member schools can create their own station or network and air it in any state the SBC has a school in, or in any state that touches that state — but no states beyond that.

According to Farmer, however, CST has reach into a small number of outlying areas that would be in conflict with the ESPN contract — for instance, some homes in the San Diego area of California.

The Sun Belt has schools in Idaho (football-only member Idaho) and New Mexico (football-only member New Mexico State), but none in states that border California.

“We can’t get past those ‘outlying areas,’” Farmer said.

So which smaller stations might UL wind up turning to instead if it proceeds with creating a regional TV network of its own?

“I don’t know,” Farmer said. “We’re working on it.”

Either deal would create an avenue for local and regional TV coverage of not just certain Cajun home football games but also certain basketball, baseball and softball home games.

Even if the Cajuns landed their first agreement with a station or “system” today, however, Farmer suggested it would not be possible to get the network up and running in time for the 2015 football season, which for the Cajuns begins with a Sept. 5 visit to SEC-member Kentucky.

(UL’s opening home game is the following Saturday against Northwestern State; it currently is scheduled for ESPN3 Internet coverage in accordance with terms of the Sun Belt/ESPN contract, but no actual TV coverage.)

That’s partly because individual stations agreeing to join the network and broadcast certain Cajun home games would not have enough advance time to sell advertising, which is what makes such a deal financially worthwhile on their end.

“I don’t think it can happen by this fall,” Farmer said.

But, he added, it could “potentially” happen in time for the 2015-16 Cajuns basketball season.

If UL was able to create a network, it would — according to terms of the long-term Sun Belt/ESPN contract — be obligated to provide to ESPN3 for Internet streaming of the home-event programming it produces for games not already scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.

UL previously had its own Ragin’ Cajun TV broadcasts, but it was disbanded following the Sun Belt’s signing of its expanded contract with ESPN.

The Sun Belt may be 18 months away “from trying to renegotiate our existing agreements” with ESPN, conference commissioner Karl Benson said earlier this week.

Meanwhile, even while exploring creation of a radio-like network Farmer holds onto hope that UL and CST, which has wide regional reach, can somehow overcome the existing SBC/ESPN roadblock.

“It’s not off the table,” Farmer said, “because they (CST officials) want to do it too. CST is dying to do it; UL is dying to do it. We just can’t get it to where it can coexist with the existing ESPN contract.”

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