The MountanWest Sports Network’s Dim Light is Finally Going Out
The Sports Business Journal reports the Mtn., that ill-conceived television station you’ve possibly never seen, is about to be put out of its misery.
As I said on my article for KSL.com, when BYU and Utah escaped from the Mountain West Conference, they left the lights on but there was no one left to pay the bills.
The station officially goes dark on May 31.
It is safe to say few tears will be shed in Provo — unless they’re tears of laughter.
It was a bold experiment that never found its footing. Commissioner Craig Thompson promised the moon – or close to it – but in the end, all he delivered was snake oil.
Instead of late-night basketball games and football contests on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on ESPN, the MWC boasted its teams would reap huge financial rewards while playing on Saturday with games shown in “52 million homes and growing.”
“There are a lot of homes that still do not have ESPN,” responded Thompson when asked about recruits’ concerns about not appearing on ESPN. “More kids will see us play than ever before. No, we’re not giving up exposure, it will mean much more to every sport, especially football and basketball.”
The school presidents that voted on the deal can hardly be blamed. As BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson said during those turbulent times in 2004, “None of us were selected as university presidents because of our sophistication in dealing with TV contracts.”
Samuelson’s comments came after the presidents received a crash course in television negotiations. They proved to be an ominous prelude to the disaster that would engulf the new league in controversy and confusion and, ultimately, destroy the conference itself.
As BYU fans are well aware, by the time The Mtn. finally made its broadcasting debut in 2006 the channel was already embroiled in controversy. Initial distribution was less than one million, a far cry from the 52 million initially promised.
It became a selling point for various service providers in Utah, luring new customers with promises that they’d actually be able to see BYU and Utah on their network – unlike their rivals.
The Mtn. was a potentially good idea. It was the first sports station dedicated to one conference. But the way it was implemented was beyond bad.
BYU, as my father is fond of saying, was the golden goose in the league. With a much, much larger fan base than any other school, the Cougars were the cash cow – you can’t keep a network going with ads purchased by the Wyoming Highway Patrol – but Thompson was practically run out of Provo in November 2006 when presenting BYU with the conference trophy. It seemed like Thompson went out of his way to marginalize and mistreat his prize stallion thereafter.
Marquee BYU basketball games – like when former Cougar coach Steve Cleveland led Fresno State against BYU in the Marriott Center – were passed over. Instead, the Mtn. showed rebroadcasts of “It’s a numbers game” and other lifeless shows.
BYU was promised the ability to re-broadcast games, or televise matches that the league’s broadcast partners passed over. Those promises were never upheld, and Thompson never seemed to fully grasp the anger seething in the BYU camp.
Utah’s departure proved to BYU’s golden parachute back into the eager arms of ESPN. In the wake of those 2010 defections, the shattered remnants of the conference have not been able to recover, and likely never will.
“BYU and Utah proved that The Mtn. needed them more than they needed it,” said BYU fan Ben King. Truer words were never spoken.
We wrote about it on this blog a year ago, but the entire Mtn. fiasco is encapsulated by an experience football coach Bronco Mendenhall shared with Cougar Club members in 2011.
Mendenhall described how he was in San Diego on a recruiting trip the night Jimmer Fredette led No. 9 BYU against No. 4 San Diego State. “I rushed back to my hotel room, hoping to catch the game. I flipped on the television and quickly found ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU but no CBS-C, Versus or Mtn.”
This, in a hotel room in the very city where a game with a gigantic national interest was being played. “Independence,” Mendenhall added, “is liberating.”
Many have speculated that if the Cougars and Utes had stayed put, the MWC would have possibly been a lock to join the exclusive BCS automatic bid club.
The reality is The Mtn. and BYU could not have co-existed any longer; the environment had simply become too toxic and bitter. BYU was staring at exit signs for years, and the ill-fated WAC partnership was just one example of how desperate the Cougars were to leave.
No tears are being shed in Provo with the news that The Mtn.’s dim light is finally going out. When I asked my father, Craig, a longtime BYU fan, what he thought of The Mtn. shutting down May 31, he simply laughed. A lot.
According to The Sports Business Journal, “sources say CBS Sports Network and the Mountain West Conference are close to finalizing a deal for the conference’s rights that will wind up increasing national distribution for the Mountain West’s upcoming football and basketball games.”
That’s the kind of promise Craig Thompson has been pushing for years. Ironically for BYU and Utah fans, it no longer matters.
“I haven’t turned on the channel since BYU left,” said King. Pretty soon, nobody else will be either.
Meanwhile, BYUtv already has a smart phone app, all HD broadcasts and a larger distribution than The Mtn. could ever hope to achieve. And that’s saying nothing about ESPN.