Major-Conference Athletic Directors Get Behind Digital Networks

Many university athletic departments looking to break into the digital-network market struggle with a similar challenge: convincing the administration that it’s worth the financial investment.

Kansas State Director of Athletics John Currie

That wasn’t the case at Kansas State, where Athletic Director John Currie was not only a champion for the cause but a driving force behind it. The Wildcats spent nearly $500,000 in HD equipment to launch KStateHD.TV in August.

“All of us have to know what our institution is about and worry about that first,” said Currie, addressing the crowd at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, presented by Sports Business Journal/Daily. “So, for us, we have 200,000 friends and alumni; half of them live in Kansas, and the other live all across the country and all across the world. We have 1,800 international students on our campus right now; we have 800 Chinese students on our campus right now. So, for us, the goal of that particular entity starts off with exposure for our student athletes.”

When the project was announced, inevitable comparisons arose between K-State HD and conference rival Texas’s Longhorn Network. However, Currie said there are no plans to do anything similar to Longhorn Network because it wouldn’t be in his school’s best interest: his project was more about exposure than immediate financial gain.

“When you heard [University of Texas] President [William] Powers talking about [Longhorn Network], he said that that’s what they were talking about, too,” he said. “It was only after they got it up and running that it surprised them to realize the financial power of it. But, for us, our first goal is to produce high-level content and provide exposure for our student athletes. Down the road, we will see where we go with additional revenue from it, whether that’s direct or indirect.”

Athletic directors from the Pac-12 also expressed excitement over the conference’s prospective digital network. Pac-12 Enterprises is expected to go online sometime in the coming years, following the launch of its television networks next summer.

“We think [the digital-rights tier] may have the best growth possibilities of the entire enterprise,” said Stanford University Director of Athletics Bob Bowlsby. “We’ve been able to capture not only our archival materials, but we’ve been able to carve out an opportunity for us to capitalize on yet-to-be-invented or yet-to-be-determined forward-looking technologies. So we really see that as an opportunity to look at how we deliver signals to a mobile device and how we may consume sports and institutional programming in years ahead.”

The Pac-12 is also optimistic about using its digital platform to expand its brand internationally.

“This is obviously something that will bode well for us domestically, but we really have our eyes set on a global platform,” said UCLA Director of Athletics Dan Guerrero. “We’re positioned very well geographically to move into the Far East, for example.”

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