Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Watching the Big Ten Network Crash and Burn

Seems the Big Ten is joining the NFL in learning that there are limits to how far you can push your premiere product to drive revenue. The NFL Network is still struggling for placement on cable systems, as cable providers resist paying over $8 a year for each subscriber. Now, the Big Ten conference is now adding the University of Hard Knocks as cable companies thumb their noses at their new TV network. The lack of progress in getting the Big Ten Network on cable systems have led Weasel fans to turn to Congress to look into the situation.

Seems the Big 10 has an even grander view of themselves than the NFL, as the Big Ten Network intends to charge cable companies (and therefore, you) $1.10 a month if you live in Big Ten territory. That's over $13 a year. And like the NFL, they insist that this be on basic cable so that all customers have to pay, not just sports fans. Big Ten commissioner explains their position:
"Millions of Big Ten fans who already pay their basic cable bill would expect this to be included. If they choose to put it on a sports tier -- I call that a tax."
Oh, and where will the cable company get the $13 annual fee for each subscriber? Simple...raise rates. That's your tax right there.

I have no doubt that eventually the Big Ten Network can eventually be a success...but not with this business model. Battling with cable companies only means fans are losers. In the end, networks like the Big Ten's will struggle until cable companies find a way to increase capacity and go to ala-carte models to allow you to pick and choose your programming choices. Personally, I'd gladly trade off Lifetime, MTV, and Faux News for the NFL Network. But right now my cable company doesn't give me that option...and I don't see it happening anytime soon.

In the meantime...sports fans are the losers in this war.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Recruiting Update & Other Potporri

I've commented before on college recruiting spinning out of control. Today brings more proof with Ryan Boatwright's verbal commitment to USC's basketball team. No big deal; kids commit every day.

Not 14 year olds.

Not 8th graders who haven't even decided where to go to high school.

That's right... USC basketball coach Tim Floyd offered a college scholarship to an 8th grader... and the 8th grader accepted. What's worse? This is the SECOND verbal commitment Floyd has received from an 8th grader.

I'm not sure how we get recruiting under control, but I have a few thoughts. One, no longer allow for verbal scholarship offers, but rather allow coaches to extend written scholarship offers at any time. Even 2 year olds, but with one caveat. Once a scholarship is offered, it can not be rescinded unless the prospect rejects it. Coaches will think long and hard before offering scholarships if they have to live with that decision for years.

A lot of opinions are shifting to the "Save Rosenblatt" side during the College World Series, and the emotional attachment is certainly understandable. But make no bones about it...at some point somebody is going to push the issue about moving the College World Series from Omaha. Mayor Fahey isn't trying to destroy Rosenblatt, but he recognizes the long term threat. That's why Omaha must make a significant commitment to the College World Series in order to extract a long term commitment from the NCAA. Remember it isn't the stadium so much as the event.

Meanwhile, after last summer's summer of discontent at UNO, Maverick athletics are finally starting to turn the corner. Tonight, the MIAA voted to admit UNO, giving the Mavs a home for their division 2 sports. Granted, there are still issues with division 2, but by aligning with the one of the bigger D-2 conferences, it's the best move for now. If D-2 continues to implode, the MIAA schools will start looking towards D-1 in the future, and by that time, UNO should be in a better position to pursue division 1.

As for UNO's division 1 hockey program, more good news courtesy of Mavpuck.com. New athletic director David Miller has a five point plan to engage fans, boosters, and the media. Not to mention replace the lounge lizards with a real pep band. Add to that the new pricing for UNO hockey tickets, you can feel the momentum finally swinging back.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Civic Lives on to haunt UNO Hockey

The long awaited study on the future of Omaha's Civic Auditorium has finally finished the initial phase with a mixed message. On one hand, the physical plant apparantly is still in good shape for another 25 or 30 years, leading Mayor Mike Fahey to tell the Omaha World-Herald that it's going to be spared the wrecking ball for now.

However, on the other hand, the future business prospects for the Civic have never looked so bleak. The Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights have already fled town, and the Omaha Beef indoor football team have apparantly alienated their fan base, with attendance dropping 75% in recent weeks. Creighton is looking to bring women's basketball and volleyball back on campus. And the Civic needs about $15 million to retrofit the modern amenities into the arena.

So here comes the inevitable proposal to move UNO hockey back from the Qwest Center to the Civic.

My take:

It will take a lot to make the idea of returning Maverick Hockey back inside the snot-covered walls of the Civic palatable. Suites help. Club seating might be nice. Video replay boards would definitely help. And expanding the restrooms, concourses, and concession stands would be nice as well.

But it's still a 53 year old building that I still think Nebraska-Omaha's hockey program has outgrown. Many will disagree with that opinion. They remember the sightlines of the old barn. They remember the noise level of Tuesday night. They point out the sellouts in 2006 when UNO was forced to play the Weasels of Michigoon at the Civic to accomodate the State Wrestling Tournament.

Problem with that analogy is that 12 months earlier, the UNO-Michigan series drew nearly 20,000 fans to the Qwest Center. When UNO played Wayne State at the Civic to allow Creighton to play in the BracketBuster in 2005, those two games were the worst attended games in the second half of the season. They also don't remember how UNO's attendance INCREASED the first year at the Qwest Center, and in terms of butts in the seats, attendance at the Qwest Center is still better than attendance at the Civic in that last full season.

Suites, video boards, and a press box can certainly make the Civic more palatable, but where is there room to add these amenities? Simple...remove seating. Which presents the classic catch-22. Making the Civic smaller isn't a solution, as the Civic's seating today barely meets the requirements of the Big XII for women's basketball. And moving back to an even smaller Civic smacks of moving back in with your parents after you've grown and they've turned your room into a den. UNO's budget problems during the Nancy Belck fiasco are well known...but returning to the Civic because of the mismanagement of the previous administration is making a long-term business decision based on short-term issues.

Frankly, I'm not sure where the $15 million in funding for suites and other amenities is going to come from. If UNO were to return to the Civic, it would have to be at a significant discount to what they were paying before. (The Knights got a heck of a discount from the city and they still hemorraged cash worse than Jim Buck's University credit card...) No way is UNO paying $15 million to move back to the Civic.

If anything, this announcement is merely a stay-of-execution for the Civic. Some folks will call for the Mavs to move back, and there will be some discussions regarding it. But I just don't see it happening unless it's a short-term budget issue on the way towards building a new arena at Chili Greens. If anything, I see a bigger benefit to the city in allocating that $15 million plus the $3-$5 million in heating/air-conditioning repairs the Civic requires in the short term towards UNO's arena project. The Civic Auditorium arena is probably good for 25 years, but who is going to use the Exhibition Hall now? How about the Mancuso Convention Center? The expenses of maintaining those areas tip the equation against keeping the Civic. And at some point, the land at 18th & Capitol is going to be a target for redevelopment as Omaha's downtown continues to grow.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

As the Blatt Turns: Remodel or Start Over?

As the College World-Series wraps up day three, folks are talking about plans for replacing Rosenblatt Stadium with a new ballpark near the Qwest Center. Even the NCAA is talking about it "between pitches". What is the right answer? It's not as cut and dried as people think. Rosenblatt certainly has a lot going for it; ESPN raves about it during each and every game. But that also doesn't mean that things couldn't be better.

When people talk glowingly of Rosenblatt, they frequently mention the general admission bleachers as a place where the average fan is still welcome (as long as they get there early enough) and it's still very affordable to go. They also mention the comaraderie of long-time season ticketholders who've had season tickets for years. You certainly don't want to eliminate the little things that helped make the College World-Series the event it is.

But step inside the concourses and you'll see the dirty little secret of the College World-Series. Claustrophobic concourses, long restroom lines, few concession stands. Saturday night's ESPN broadcast showed fans still trying to get inside the stadium long after the game started. (At last year's Nebraska-Creighton game, it took me 20 minutes to get from the stadium entrance to my seats through the crowded concourse!)

I don't think the city of Omaha wants to replace Rosenblatt. It has history, and the city has invested millions of dollars into it. But the NCAA wants things to be upgraded. They want some controls over the flea-market atmosphere outside. They want some raw infrastructure upgraded (skyboxes, new locker rooms, meeting/office space). So the City of Omaha started to total up the cost of improvements and started to choke on the numbers. $25 million for starters, and you still haven't begun to address much of the infrastructure.

It's a sobering total. Even the NCAA recognized this...and they suggested that maybe it's time to consider a new stadium. It's an intriguing idea. We could spend $25 million over the next 5 years to upgrade Rosenblatt, then find ourself in a position to spend another $25 or $30 million in 10 or 15 years to address the problems that aren't being addressed. Can you say "Money Pit"?

The key to solving this is to identify what makes the College World-Series what it is...and make sure that no matter what happens, it still exists. General admission? Gotta have it. Long-time season ticketholders? Assure them that they'll still have seats in the same approximate locations near the same people they've sat by previously. (I've heard a rumor that Creighton would control the tickets for their boosters, obviously people reacting to Creighton's ticket policy for other NCAA championship events.) Zestos? Certainly you've got to find a way to get Zesto's near a new stadium.

Some of the silliest criticism of the new stadium idea revolves around moving downtown. The new stadium would likely be located about 4 blocks west of Omaha's new Qwest Center arena which is undergoing a lot of development as we speak. 4 new hotels are under construction literally across the street from the proposed location. Thousands of parking spaces are available at the Qwest Center. Creighton's new soccer stadium and the Qwest Center are available for festivities...again, all within walking distance. New bars and restaurants, including Omaha's new indy-rock mecca, Slowdown. Oh yes, and my daughter's child care center as well. (Does that address the "is it safe" argument?) I drive through this area daily, and it's easy to see how this part of town would explode if the CWS moves in. Many refer to this as "NoDo", the counterpart to Denver's LoDo district that was revitalized when the Colorado Rockies moved in about 10 years ago.

But by that same token, the new stadium plan has questions. How would 16,000 temporary seats work? Can you really do it for $50 million? If Omaha decides to build a new stadium, it cannot afford to screw it up. The College World Series brings in $34 million to the Omaha economy, according to a 2003 Creighton survey. Personally, if Omaha is building a new stadium and is thinking long term, you start with 30,000 seats with an eye on eventually needing to hold 40,000.

Deep down, I think this new stadium is going to happen. Omaha needs the College World Series, and pumping $25 million into Rosenblatt without solving all of Rosenblatt's issues could be one of the biggest mistakes we could make.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Future of TV Sports

K-State Sports & Beyond reports today that Big XII commissioner Keven Weiberg is quitting to join the Big 10 TV Network. Interesting move for both Weiberg and the Bigger 10 with all the recent changes to Big XII TV contracts as of late. In a radio interview today on KOZN-AM, Lee Barfknect talked about Weiberg's vision for individual school TV networks possibly being part of the reason why he's joining the Big Ten.

The more I think about it, we are on the cusp of another revolution in television and broadcasting. The number of specialty networks is exploding, with the NBA and NFL each having their own networks, and Major League Baseball planning to launch their own network. There's a Golf Channel and a Tennis Channel. Everywhere you turn around, somebody seems to be creating their own network. Meanwhile, cable networks are constrained in terms of capacity, especially as more and more networks go high definition. Even the Food Network is going HD!

Meanwhile, Congress is once again discussing options for ala-carte programming, allowing you to pick-and-choose what networks you pay for. How is this going to work out? I think you are going to see a convergence between television and the internet. A lot of people are all geeked up over the Apple Phone, but in my mind, the Apple Phone pales in comparision to Apple TV. Apple is already in discussion with major movie studios about renting videos through iTunes, which will make watching movies even easier than Netflix.

Take this to the next level - subscriptions like Netflix. Right now, Netflix bears the expense of mailing DVD's to your house. If you choose a popular title, sometimes you have to wait for your turn to get a copy of a new release. The iTunes model eliminates the physical inventory. Heck, you'll even be able to pre-order the movie, and on the day it's released, it'll automatically download to your TV.

What the heck does this have to do with sports? If you're a Husker fan anywhere in the country, you can order DVD's of football games to be delivered to your home days after each game. Imagine subscribing to the Husker network and getting these same games automatically fed to your TV via the internet. Already today you can watch baseball and volleyball games on your computer...it's not a large leap to use a device like this to get them on your TV.

In a few years, wondering whether your cable company carries Versus is going to be a moot point. You'll just point your TV towards Versus.com and wonder what all the fuss was about in the past...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Husker Hoops vs Oregon in Omaha

Now that the Nebraska-Oregon game has been announced for Saturday afternoon, December 15th, it's almost eerie the silence from the BrieJay fans. Perhaps they got all their complaining out of their system and resigned themselves to the fact that this is happening. Perhaps some of them finally realized how silly and immature their complaints were. Or maybe they're too busy trying to scalp College World Series tickets this week to worry about it. In any event, most of 'em have moved on. And the ones that haven't, well, have cemented their irrelevence. I believe Kevin Kugler pretty much summed it up yesterday:
"If you're a Bluejay fan, you must have one miserable life if Nebraska playing in a City-owned venue affects you in any appreciable way."
There's another golf outing tomorrow involving former Husker players and coaches...but this time, it's Husker hoops showing the football program how to do it. Doc Sadler invited former Husker coach Danny Nee to play in the first "Doc Sadler Golf Classic." Said Sadler last month:
"I want to make Nebraska basketball a program. I don't think you can do that if you pick and choose who is going to be in it. So I want to try to bring back everybody who has ever played or coached here, and make them feel a part of it."
I wish Sadler's boss and Bill Callahan would heed Sadler in this case. It would go a long way towards healing Husker Nation.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Commence the BrieJay Whining: NU vs. Oregon at the Qwest Center Announcement

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports that the Nebraska vs. Oregon basketball game will be officially announced at the Qwest Center ...probably this December. Needless to say, the reaction from the bandwagonners in Creighton blue will be furious since it's "their" arena.

Nevermind the fact that the city took out bonds to pay for much of the arena.

Nevermind the fact that state tax money is being used to help pay off the bonds.

The sense of entitlement of BrieJay fans isn't difficult to understand, though. Thanks to the Creighton athletic department, BrieJay fans absconded all of the tickets to the 2008 NCAA basketball tournament. Then, when other basketball fans complained, they tried to spin the story away unsuccessfully. I'm assuming that most of these people aren't alums or students; I don't think the Jesuits wouldn't teach this behavior..

One idea I've heard to appease the whining from the Hilltop was getting a twin bill with Creighton and another major name opponent, such as Notre Dame. While this sounds good in theory, Creighton has struggled to bring in name opponents in recent years. (Let's be honest, nobody wants to go on the road and play a well-coached mid-major program in this day of college athletic economics.) If Creighton could get a program like Notre Dame to come to Omaha, they would have already done it. Besides, ticket distribution would be difficult, as Creighton's season ticketholders would be upset at having to buy tickets to a Nebraska game and vice versa. I think Nebraska will draw a nice sized crowd (read 12,000 or more) to this game, depending on when it's scheduled.

UNO hockey has games scheduled on December 6th & 7th (Lake Superior State-Friday/Saturday), December 18th (Minnesota State-Mankato- Tuesday), December 28th (Princeton-Friday), and December 30th (Yale-Sunday). Looking at the Qwest Center schedule, the rest of the month is free. There shouldn't be a problem fitting this game in.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Maurice Purify: Stupidity Strikes Again

Score two more points for the Huskers in the Fulmer Cup standings, brought to you by Everyday Must Be Saturday: Husker wide receiver Maurice Purify follows up his assault charge from last month with a "driving while under the influence" arrest early this morning. Has Bill Callahan had enough of Purify? Perhaps, as he's suspended Purify indefinitely.

My take? I call this the third strike on Purify, with the first strike being the personal foul penalties last season. With that in mind, dismissal from the team certainly isn't out of line. Personally, I'd think about dismissal for this season, and give Purify the option of returning in 2008 (I believe he still has a redshirt season) if - and only if - he (a) gets treatment, (b) stays out of any further trouble, and (c) makes restitution to the community. In other words, he has to earn his way back onto the team in 2008. Sure, he theoretically could just go straight to the NFL, but the NFL isn't tolerating off-the-field issues either.

Some will talk about what losing Purify means to the offense in 2007, but they miss the point. The Huskers have no need for a player who can't control himself, whether it's a trash-talking safety, a bouncer at a bar, or driving drunk. Until he gets control of himself and his life, he is of no use to the Huskers.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Big XII Football joins the NHL on Versus

When news of TBS dropping Big XII football games broke, there was talk about FSN sublicensing these games to Versus, home of the NHL, rodeo, and the Tour de France. Fortunately, a deal with ESPN and ESPN2 was worked out, which represents an upgrade. (I still don't like the 8pm kickoffs though...)

Now comes word that Versus is back into the mix, with FSN now sublicensing Big XII and Pac-10 college football games to Versus. Good deal or not? I think it depends on whether these games represent additional TV games or if they are games that are currently televised by FSN at 11:30 am. Problem is, the word isn't particularly clear. The Des Moines Register reported today that the Iowa @ Iowa State game is the first game to be televised by Versus.

If these games are in addition to the 11:30 am games on FSN, this is a good deal if only because they are games that would otherwise not be televised or televised on pay-per-view. However, if this a replacement for 11:30 am FSN games, this is a horrible deal for the Big XII. Versus has limited distribution nationwide, frequently relegated to digital cable or sports packages. This has been an issue for the NHL, which has seen it's nationwide visibility drop after they switched from ESPN to Versus. The broadcasts themselves are fine, with decent graphics and better announcers than FSN seems to scrape together. But the limited availability of Versus is an issue. (Not to me; my cable company carries Versus...but I sympathize with those folks who don't have Versus, such as Omaha's crappy, overpriced Cox Cable...)

I can already hear the uproar when the first Nebraska game is televised by Versus, and people scramble to try to figure out where it is on their cable system, if it's even there. (Hint...it used to be called "OLN: Outdoor Life Network"...) Remember the fuss when a Nebraska/Kansas State game was moved to FX? This could be even louder...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Shatel: Look to Oklahoma for tips on healing Husker Nation

Today's column by Tom Shatel in the Omaha World-Herald (sorry, once again, it's not online so no link) looks at how Oklahoma has handled the transitions from legends to disarray to unity and championships. Even Bob Castiglione, OU's athletic director, commented on the similarity between the situation that existed with the Sooners and the Huskers:
"That reminds me of what I walked into nine years ago at Oklahoma. We had all these different factions. The Switzer faction. The Bud Wilkinson faction. The John Blake faction. They all thought they knew the best way for Oklahoma. The problem was, everybody was forgetting about the mother ship."
What solved it? Well, the first move was Castiglione and Bob Stoops asking Barry Switzer to be part of the program. That didn't mean Stoops had to run the Wishbone, set up a still, or violate NCAA rules. It just meant that there was one Sooner family, and all are welcome. Kind of reminds me of my proposed peace treaty. But the first move needs to come from Bill Callahan and Steve Pederson: if they really want to unite Husker Nation, they'll call Tom Osborne and ask him personally to be part of the program again, not just have their secretarys write formal, CYA "because we have to" letters. (I know Corn Blight over at Corn Nation will disagree with me, but I strongly believe that the road to Husker Unity goes through Steve Pederson and Tom Osborne...)

If it worked for Oklahoma, it can work for Nebraska.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

More on Football Scheduling

Earlier this week, Steve Pederson told the Lincoln Journal-Star that it's much more difficult to schedule home games than it used to be:
“Teams you typically could pay for a one-time appearance in your stadium are not as willing to do that as they used to be. They want a 2-for-1. Yet at the same time, we’ve tried to avoid going to smaller venues to play games.“
And you know what, Pederson is right on that point. In the 1990's, Nebraska was able to get Washington State and Baylor to come in for home games without a return trip. In the 80's, both Oregon and Oregon State came to Lincoln without getting a home game in exchange. Now, Conference USA, Mountain West, and WAC teams demand a home-and-home or at least a 2-for-1.

However, that excuse doesn't wash when you consider that Nebraska isn't going on the road once in the non-conference portion of the schedule in 2008. Now comes word that Michigoon is looking for an opponent for 2008, and is willing to return the game. And guess what...both Nebraska and the Weasels have open dates on Labor Day weekend in 2008. Can't you see ABC and ESPN drooling over opening the college football season with this matchup? And wouldn't the 2009 schedule look a lot better with the Weasels coming to Lincoln instead of one of those Sun Belt teams?

First reaction to defend Pederson's scheduling would be to ask why Nebraska would want to open the 2008 season on the road, likely with a new quarterback. True. But Michigoon also had an opening on September 6th that they just filled with Toledo. So Nebraska could have found another game for Labor Day weekend, gone to the Big House on the 6th and then still had Virginia Tech in Lincoln on the 20th. Even pairing a 1-AA team with the Weasels would have been a better schedule than what the Huskers ended up with.