West Georgia to host TV game

Birmingham, AL – July 2, 2005 The GSC is back on live t.v.!

Beginning with Southern Arkansas at Ouachita Baptist on September 22, nine Gulf South Conference football games will air live on CSS (Comcast/Charter Sports South). Seven will simulcast on Cox Sports as part of a multi-system broadcast package this Fall. Other cable systems and open-air channels may be added in non-conflicting areas. The nation’s largest D-II conference also plans to air its men’s & women’s basketball championship games, and is open to additional programming.

“This is exciting and a step in the right direction,” said GSC Commissioner Nate Salant. “The American public is hungry for sports and for winners. The GSC is the home of defending national D-II football champion Valdosta State and former national champions Delta State and North Alabama. Arkansas Tech is coming off its second NCAA Playoff appearance and the first-ever Playoff win by an Arkansas school. We’ve got great football and a lot of fans are going to find out about it.”

Defending national champion Valdosta State airs twice: October 1 at Delta State and October 20 versus North Alabama. Conference runner-up Arkansas Tech is televised on October 6 at Delta State and in the season finale versus Central Arkansas (November 3). All told, every team airs at least once; six of the 12 air twice.” The goal was balance more than attempting to guess which games would be the most important down the stretch,” according to Salant.

CSS, headquartered in Atlanta, GA, is the primary carrier, but seven of the games will simulcast live on Cox Sports. CSS is available in most of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida—all of which have GSC members—plus the Carolinas and Kentucky, and parts of Mississippi (Tupelo and Jackson) and Arkansas (Little Rock). Cox covers almost all of the rest of Arkansas, plus eastern Texas, Louisiana and the Panhandle section of Florida. Other open-air channels and cable systems in non-conflicting markets may also join what is essentially growing into a GSC “sports network.”

“We’ve been searching for the right way to get our football games back on the air,” Commissioner Salant said. “Under this plan, Crosscreek will produce the games for us, so we control who gets them, the ‘look’ of the broadcast and the editorial content. It enables us to combine CSS’ four million-plus homes with Cox two-million plus, and add other channels and systems in non-conflicting markets, so we’ll easily hit more than seven million.”

The GSC last aired live in 2000. The carrier was CSS, but the arrangement was different: CSS owned exclusive rights to the games and this resulted in several problems, ranging from viewing area to editorial content.

“The biggest issue was the lack of coverage in Arkansas and Mississippi, home to eight GSC football-playing schools,” according to Salant. “Given CSS’ imprint, they wanted as many North Alabama, West Georgia and Valdosta State games as possible; given our geographics, which include seven football schools in Arkansas and one in the Mississippi Delta, this was not fair.

“The key this time is that we’ve got CSS and Cox, plus we retain the rights so we can take it to other systems and open-air channels as long as there are no direct conflicts,” Salant said. “We also have an arrangement that will allow an open-air channel in Florida to broadcast the games. Its standard viewership is heavy in south Georgia, an area that generally lacks CSS but has a large GSC following because of Valdosta State.”

A lot of the impetus came from the NCAA D-II Chief Executive Officers Summit held in Orlando, FL, June 24-26, according to Salant.

“It was eminently clear that the American public believes that if something is on t.v., it must be good and it must be worth watching, especially when it comes to sports,” he said. “Research indicates that a league like ours needs a regional imprint before looking at something broader; that’s why the combination of CSS and Cox makes so much sense.

“We also learned that one of the three major reasons cited by schools that choose to leave D-II in favor of D-I is increased television exposure, so we’re tackling that bull by the horns.”

For the time being, the funding comes from the GSC football-playing schools and the conference’s operating budget, “but the preference is to shift it over to commercial advertising,” Salant said. “We’re in negotiations with a major shoe company, hotel chain and investment/financial planning company, but you never know how these kinds of things will come out. Given the seven million households, plus our geographic imprint in cities like Atlanta, Birmingham and Little Rock, there may be some pretty strong interest. We also have more than 85,000 full-time students and over 500,000 alumni in the southeast—that’s a pretty strong buying group.”

Under the plan, each GSC football-playing school gets one minute of self-promotion advertising time in each broadcast (nine minutes over the course of the season). Each school also has an option to sell some advertising, which would also air on every broadcast and in all markets.

“The last time we did this, schools had the opportunity to sell ads, but the ads only ran during the games in which that school played,” Salant said. “Similarly, the self-promotion pieces only aired when that school played. This time, the concept is different: it is about the entire conference and about promoting everyone, especially into new markets and to new fans.

“We know that there are a lot of casual football fans out there who are channel-surfing for games. We’re hoping some of them will discover ours, stop and watch, enjoy the quality of the games and come back each week. Our goal is to build an audience, and that takes more than one year, so we’re already looking ahead to 2006.”


09/22    Southern Arkansas @ Ouachita Baptist                Thursday            8 p.m.09/29    North Alabama @ Central Arkansas                     Thursday            8 p.m.10/01     Valdosta State @ Delta State                              Saturday            7 p.m.10/06     Arkansas Tech @ Delta State                              Thursday            8 p.m.10/13    Harding @ Arkansas-Monticello                            Thursday            8 p.m.10/15    Southern Arkansas @ West Georgia                    Saturday            7 p.m.10/20    North Alabama @ Valdosta State                         Thursday            8 p.m.10/29    West Alabama @ Henderson State                      Saturday            7 p.m.11/03    Central Arkansas @ Arkansas Tech                     Thursday            7 p.m. All times are Central Time.  Schedule is subject to change.
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