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BYU, Utah retian attorney to "explore" broadcasting options

Published June 1, 2007 5:41 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 5:43 PM- The clamoring of fans wasn't enough to force major satellite television systems to carry The Mountain regional sports network, so now the presidents of BYU and Utah hope the insistence of a lawyer can be more successful.

The two Mountain West Conference schools announced Friday they have retained a sports broadcasting attorney to "explore all possible options in improving the distribution of athletic broadcasts" to their fans.

Prompting BYU and Utah to hire Kelly Crabb, a partner in the Los Angeles office of the international law firm Morrison and Foerster, was the unsuccessful attempt to get satellite services such as DirecTV and the Dish Network to carry The Mtn. network that was launched in September.

The network is co-owned by Comcast Cable and CBS' College Sports Television (CSTV).

What Crabb can exactly do to alleviate the situation isn't known. University officials say they hope to find that out in the coming weeks while Crabb, reached Friday afternoon, wouldn't comment on the situation.

What is obvious is the presidents are frustrated with the current situation and are looking for a resolution before the 2007 football season begins.

"We've asked Kelly to investigate our situation with the conference's television contract and recommend a new course of action," said BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson said in a release. "We are looking forward to weighing Kelly's recommendations and determining the best course of action available to us."

University of Utah president Michael K. Young wouldn't speculate on what the course of actions the presidents hoped to take, including a scenario the schools might try to get out of a contract they worked hard to develop.

"We're looking for every leverage we can to make this move forward," he said. "If it's not going to happen, then we need to know that as quickly as possible."

The MWC severed ties with mighty ESPN, which is viewed in almost 90 million homes earlier this year in favor of the new network for more money and better times for its games.

The league went with Comcast and CSTV in a 10-year plan with $120 million. According to Javan Hedlund, associate commissioner for the Mountain West Conference, each school was getting about $800,000 from ESPN in a previous deal while a contract extension was going to drop the amount to $500,00. The new contract reaped $1.1 million per school, but has cost the conference unforeseen hassles in the process as the network has struggled to expand its reach.

"We still think it was the right way to go to be flexible and to be able to control our product," Young said. "But it has been harder than anticipated. We aren't second-guessing the decision, but there needs to be some serious table pounding done."

Under the agreement, most of the conference's games are broadcast on The mtn. although some air on cable network Versus and on CSTV.

In December, Cox Communications, announced it would add The mtn., to its Las Vegas and San Diego markets, a move that brought hope that DirecTV and Dish Network would follow the same path but that hasn't happened.

The Mtn., now reaches 1.2 million viewers, according to Kim Carver, The Mtn.'s vice president and general manager, who reiterated the network's commitment to the conference.

"As is the normal course for any new network, The Mtn.'s distribution continues to grow and we are working aggressively to further expand our audience," Carver said.

The persistence might be there, but the results are still unsatisfying say those involved.

"We want to get exposure where we can and we don't want frustrated fans and alumni," said Utah football Kyle Whittingham. "Fans are the backbone of our program and we want to keep them happy," he said.