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Webcasting the College Game

Webcasting the College Game
Internet, media firms team up with football conference to bring sporting events to a new audience.A new era in college sports broadcasting got under way in late August when fans watched a Big 12 conference game between the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas A&M University on their computers using high-speed Internet connections. Although the quality of streaming video of live football falls short of that delivered in a television broadcast, television networks and online companies are gambling that the market for such events is large enough to make college sports webcasting a viable enterprise (see Black Issues, Oct. 12, 2000).
For at least a few years, colleges and universities have been airing audio broadcasts of their football and basketball games over the Internet, and a few schools have streamed live and archived video broadcasts of their teams in action. Dozens of schools have deals with companies that make video highlights of games as well as televised press conferences of their coaches available over the Internet. Nonetheless, the team of and RealNetworks in association with the Big 12 conference marks the first significant venture by broadcast/Internet entities in association with a college conference to offer game webcasts to fans on a fee basis. 
At a time when major media and Internet companies are moving from a free Internet content model to one of charging for content, the move into sports may provide a source of paid programming over which consumers may not express serious reservations, observers say. With regard to the Big 12 Conference this season, consumers have the option to purchase access to individual games, or to a series of games combined with news and entertainment through RealNetworks’ RealOne SuperPass. The SuperPass is a fast growing paid Internet media subscription service that enables consumers to access sports programming as well as entertainment and news content.
“By partnering with Fox Sports and its Internet venture with Lycos and RealNetworks, we believe we can enhance the amount of video streaming we are able to do over the Internet,” says Big 12 conference commissioner Kevin Weiberg. “It also allows us to reach a broader audience with our magazine show, “Big 12 Showcase,” and can eventually be a source of exposure for many of our Big 12 Olympic sports programs.”
The Big 12 schools are Baylor University, University of Colorado, Iowa State University, University of Kansas, Kansas State University, University of Missouri, University of Nebraska, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, University of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.
Kansas State University officials say having their Sept. 7 match with the University of Louisiana-Monroe broadcast over the Internet represented a unique opportunity for the school whose football team attained national ranking early this season. As of early October, the team’s winning record has gotten their games televised twice nationally.
“If we’re being watched by fans in Japan and other parts of the world, that’s great,” says Casey Scott, associate athletic director for operations at Kansas State University.
Scott says it will be critical for school and conference officials to have precise tracking of where their Internet-connected viewers reside. Officials will want to know how much regional overlap there is between their Internet audience and the local markets at the venues where the games are played, he notes.
Dr. Rodney Fort, an economics professor at Washington State University, says college conferences will likely dominate the representation of individual schools in Internet deals if webcasting takes off as a significant business. “College conferences usually have control over their member schools’ broadcast deals, and the transmission of video images over the Internet would fall under that jurisdiction,” Fort says.
Fort believes that some schools may clash with their conferences over the rights to broadcast games over the Internet. He thinks it’s unlikely that individual schools would leave their conferences to pursue Internet and other broadcast deals, such as with satellite companies.
“You’ve had major independents, such as Penn State, join conferences because the benefits outweigh the disadvantages,” Fort says.  

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