By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
As a new college football season kicks off this week, gobs of fans around the state and across the nation may be unable to watch Pac-12 teams play on the conference’s new television network.
That’s because they’re subscribers to DirecTV, which has not signed an agreement to carry the Pac-12 Networks to its nearly 20 million customers.
“We are working on it. We are working on it daily,” Gary Stevenson, chief executive officer for Pac-12 Networks, said of the negotiations.
He wouldn’t predict whether a deal gets done before Thursday afternoon, when the network airs its first football game at the University of Utah, or by Saturday night when it televises the University of Washington contest with San Diego State.
Pac-12 football games scheduled to air on other channels, such as ESPN and ABC, will be available on DirecTV and are not affect by these talks.
Meanwhile, fans clearly want the new conference network to strike a deal with DirecTV and many of them are using social media to apply pressure as consumers.
“I think the fans are driving the conversation,” Stevenson said. “It is clear that each day that goes by they are getting more interested and more passionate. There’s a sense of urgency. I have to believe people hear them because it’s so loud.”
The Pac-12 conference is fomenting things a bit, too, with its Channel Finder. This is an online page where fans can learn which cable and satellite services in their neighborhood carry the network. If theirs does not, the site provides links for fans to send an email or Tweet to the provider requesting they carry the network.
Fans aren’t the only ones desirous of an agreement. No deal between the companies could cut into revenues of bars and restaurants, where college football games are piped in via DirecTV.
“Until they reach an agreement we’re going to be kind of up the creek without a paddle,” said Ralph Heitzenrater, owner of Baxter’s Sports Bar in Mill Creek. He subscribes to DirecTV and would love to show the local teams on the bar’s slew of big-screen televisions.
He estimated he could lose up to $500 in business on those days the network is airing games of the UW, Washington State University or one of the Pac-12’s top-ranked schools.
He’s hopeful a solution will be reached sooner than later.
“I think everybody’s expecting it to work out,” he said.
The Pac-12 Networks, launched Aug. 15, is carried to roughly 48 million homes by 28 cable companies including industry giants Comcast, Time Warner and Cox. In Washington, the list of providers includes Frontier Communications, Wave and Click!
The conference network is not just a football channel. It churns out programming 24 hours a day including live broadcasts of Pac 12 teams competing in various men’s and women’s intercollegiate sports. Pac-12 Networks is made up of one national network and six regional feeds, including one for Washington.
Securing carrier agreements with DirecTV and Dish Network — which claim a combined 34 million customers — have proven elusive, as the two sides cannot reportedly settle on a price. Stevenson declined to discuss any aspect of negotiations.
“Our goal is to have 100 percent distribution and we’re working daily with those people with whom we don’t have affiliation agreements,” Stevenson said.
Phone calls and emails to DirecTV and Dish officials were not returned Friday.
UW and WSU officials familiar with the negotiations expressed confidence Friday that talks are moving in a productive direction. They, too, would not hazard a guess as to whether a deal would be in place by the season’s first kickoff.
“I hope so. Anything could happen,” said John Haslam, associate vice president and general manager of UWTV.
Mike Marlow, senior associate director in the WSU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, said the Pac-12 Networks is off to a solid start toward its goal of getting carried by every distributor in the country.
“WSU remains confident that this will happen and looks forward to Cougar fans everywhere being able to receive the Pac-12 Networks, regardless of provider,” he said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org