BYU football: ESPN partnership has been a boon for school, fans

Published: Thursday, Nov. 3 2011 8:26 p.m. MDT

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall stands outside ESPN's DirecTV bus in Provo after being interviewed for a college football segment Friday, April 22, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series on BYU's position as an independent in the unstable world of conference realignment. Thanks to its partner ESPN, and its own TV network, the Cougars are receiving unprecedented exposure.

Coming Sunday: How BYU was able to capitalize on its vast resources, and work with the Pac-12, Fox Sports, and Oregon State, in a short period of time, to produce the BYU-OSU game in mid-October.

PROVO —

In its inaugural season as an independent, BYU sits in a unique position, and faces a unique dilemma.

Amid the unsettled landscape of college football, featuring conference realignment machinations with schools severing longtime rivalries and league affiliations, the Cougars have been targeted as a candidate to join the Big 12 or the Big East.

Athletic director Tom Holmoe has clearly stated that the goal is for BYU to compete at the highest levels of the sport. He and other administrators are exploring all of the options, and monitoring the latest developments.

Meanwhile, BYU is enjoying independence and an eight-year broadcasting deal with ESPN, as well as its own television network, BYUtv, which is light-years ahead of what any other school in the country currently has in terms of facilities and resources.

But the reality is, should college football move toward superconferences, BYU understands it can't afford to be stranded on an island, shut out of BCS access, and relegated to irrelevance.

So, here's the quandary: Does BYU surrender, or alter, its deal with ESPN to join a major conference, then risk having many of its games placed on regional networks with limited viewership? That is one of the major reasons the Cougars left the Mountain West Conference to go independent in the first place.

Right now, BYU's football program is receiving unprecedented exposure in terms of the number of games on national TV. Fans across the country, and around the world, are able to watch the Cougars play on a regular basis thanks to ESPN and BYUtv. BYU has already been on the ESPN family of networks seven times, with four more still to come, including the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30.

According to ESPN, the average total audience for the seven BYU games televised on the ESPN networks has been more than 1.2 million households, and over 1.6 million viewers.

For years, as a member of the MWC, BYU had many of its games broadcast on channels that many viewers had never heard of, let alone had access to.

With ESPN as a partner, the cumulative reach of its 13 games this season will exceed more than 1.2 billion households. Compare that to The mtn., which at the time it debuted in 2006, was available in less than 1 million households.

"When you look at our current situation with ESPN as our national broadcast partner and BYUtv as our second-tier partner, we find ourselves in an unbelievable circumstance," said BYU associate athletic director Duff Tittle. "To have 10 games televised nationally on the ESPN networks in year one of independence is just amazing."

Apparently, the nation is taking note, if a recent Twitter post by Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel is any indication. "This independence thing is working nicely for BYU," Mandel wrote. "I feel like I've seen them on TV more than any team outside of LSU."

In addition, the BYU-Oregon State game on Oct. 15 showcased the vast capabilities of BYUtv. Because BYU has its own HD broadcast truck, the school was able to work with various entities — the Pac-12, Fox Sports and Oregon State — to produce and televise the contest in Corvallis. That live broadcast, on KBYU, was the highest-rated college football game that weekend in the Salt Lake market.

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