Amid as much ballyhoo as they could muster, the folks at Bonneville (KSL's parent company) unveiled SportsWest this week, calling the entity "groundbreaking" and "unprecedented."
But, for local viewers, about the only difference they'll note between SportsWest and the old Blue and White Network is a change in logos. It just isn't that big a deal.SportsWest has signed seven of the eight Mountain West Conference schools (Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State and Wyoming) as well as Big West Conference members Utah State and New Mexico State to contracts to telecast football and basketball games. Games will air on KSL-Ch. 5 locally, broadcast stations in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Wyoming and cable systems in California (San Diego) and Nevada.
(Utah has its own contract with KJZZ-Ch. 14.)
At a press conference announcing the deal, reporters were told repeatedly about the 5 million households the SportsWest will reach and how much that exposure will mean to the teams involved, but that number is more than a bit deceptive. First of all, even if games were available in all eight TV markets SportsWest encompasses, that would represent only 5 percent of the nation's TV-equipped households. And, more importantly, the games will be telecast only in the markets where the team (or teams) reside. (The MWC's contract with ESPN/ABC forbids games involving the league's teams to be telecast out of market by any other TV entity.)
For example, the BYU-Utah State game on Oct. 1 will be seen only in Utah. A basketball game game between CSU and New Mexico on Jan. 10 will be seen only in Colorado and New Mexico.
Not that this is a bad thing. In a lot of these MWC markets, there has been little or no local TV package for the schools involved. This will also bring some revenues to the teams, which is also a good thing.
And Blue and White -- now SportsWest -- has always done a nice job on production. You could argue that the local team does a better job than some of its national competitors on a given Saturday.
This season, SportsWest will do seven football games -- five of those featuring BYU. That number is projected to rise to somewhere between 20 and 25 in the fall of 2000. Thirty-one basketball games are on this year's slate -- 12 featuring BYU.
However, the immediate local impact will be negligible. It does mean that all 11 Cougar football games will be televised locally -- Wyoming has agreed to move the kickoff time of its game against BYU on Nov. 13 to 4 p.m., a change that will allow Ch. 5 to air the game.
But it won't do anything to prevent ESPN/ABC from picking off the best BYU games and leaving the less-desirable matchups to SportsWest. BYU's games against Washington, Colorado State, Virginia, California, Air Force and Utah are all on ESPN, ESPN2, ABC or ESPN-regional; Ch. 5 gets USU, New Mexico, UNLV, SDSU and Wyoming.
And Utah State, which already had a deal with Blue and White, carries that over to SportsWest. That's good for Aggie fans, who can expect to see any home games their team plays against BYU and Utah on TV, as well as matchups with New Mexico State (including the football game on Nov. 6).
Again, SportsWest is a nice thing for fans of the Cougars and the Aggies here in Utah. And it could prove to be a boon for the other seven schools in their local markets.
But it's not going to increase national exposure. It's not going to bring the Mountain West to a new level. It's not that big a deal.
BEHIND THE MIKE: Keep an ear open when SportsWest telecasts the Utah State-BYU game on Oct. 1. KSL sportscaster Tom Kirkland will be doing play-by-play, a position he admits he doesn't have much experience at.
He'll be joined by longtime Blue and White color commentator Blaine Fowler.
DOWNRIGHT DECEPTIVE: In its report on former BYU running back Ronney Jenkins, HBO "Real Sports" reporter Derek McGinty at one point intoned that " 'Real Sports' has obtained a list of 25 football players who've had serious honor code violations in the past decade" -- leaving viewers with the unmistakable impression that HBO had dug up this list and, possibly, that it was some sort of internal BYU document.
"Real Sports" obtained that list from the Deseret News. The segment's producer contacted DesNews sports writer Doug Robinson, who sent her a copy of his story -- a story that formed the basis of HBO's report.
Technically, "Real Sports" didn't lie. But the spirit of deception was certainly there.
I've always respected "Real Sports" for its journalistic integrity. Until now.