AMES — The television scenario for Iowa State’s Saturday night date with Texas (7 p.m. on the Longhorn Network and Cyclones.tv) is a bit unusual but as is normally the case, Jamie Pollard has a master plan.
This one has everything to do with the branding and growth of Iowa State’s network, Cyclones.tv.
Pollard, Iowa State’s bold athletics director, was thinking long-term when he made the decision over the summer to partner with the University of Texas in allowing both Cyclones.tv and the Longhorn Network to televise Saturday’s game featuring two 2-4 Big 12 teams.
Iowa State negotiated an agreement with the University of Texas to have the Longhorn Network produce the telecast for Cyclones.tv while still allowing Iowa State to insert its own announcers – CF’s own Brent Blum and former Cyclone and NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels.
“It’s not costing us a dime in terms of dollars and cents so I look at it as a huge opportunity to brand our channel — that hopefully will pay significant dividends somewhere in the future," Pollard told CycloneFanatic.com.
The drawback is that Cyclone fans outside the state of Iowa will only be able to watch the game on the Longhorn Network, Texas’ third-tier channel. The Longhorn Network is far from a mainstream channel but its list of carriers has expanded over the years, which includes the DISH Network.
For Pollard and his administrative team, this was a calculated risk. He knew that in the short term some Cyclone fans would not be pleased with the decision.
“Sometimes you have to make some tougher decisions that you hope have long-term positive impact – that in the short term, not everybody can see that,” Pollard said. “That’s what we are paid as a leadership team to do. If it was easy, everybody else would be doing it.”
Inside the offices of the Jacobson Building, this scenario is being compared to one of a few years ago when Iowa State required fans to purchase season tickets to attend the annual Cy-Hawk game in Jack Trice Stadium.
“At that time, everybody was like, ‘Oh, this is a disaster. Nobody is going to be at the game!’ They were thinking short term,” Pollard explained. “We were thinking, ‘We need people to buy season tickets and quit cherry-picking games.’ That game wasn’t a disaster. It was a full crowd, and we have never looked backward since then.”
A perfect pair
One myth that will get tossed around this week is that Iowa State gave in to “mighty Texas” in allowing the Longhorn Network to television the game.
In reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Essentially, Texas and Iowa State are using each other on Saturday night, as both schools will benefit by televising a Big 12 game on its network.
Within the Big 12’s current television contract, every school is guaranteed one game for its third-tier network per football season. Most of the time, this will be an FCS opponent on Iowa State’s schedule. However in 2014, it was last Saturday’s game against Toledo.
"The Big 12 television contract says you get one game guaranteed back to you for your third-tier rights," Pollard said. "Then it says, ‘If you want to have a second game, it is at the discretion of the television partners and it isn’t guaranteed."
While other schools in the Big 12 have quality online-only networks up and running, Iowa State and Texas are still the only two with dedicated television channels.
“You almost have to find another conference partner who wants to do it,” Pollard said. “’Who else has the ability to do that?’ It’s really Texas and Iowa State, because we have our own networks.”
The Big 12 is different than most leagues because the schools own media rights to all third-party competition.
Five years ago, Big 12 football fans often (rightfully so) complained about the league’s television deal. It wasn’t very long ago when Iowa State would play 12 games and four or five wouldn’t be on TV.
“That was what the complaining was about back then,” Pollard said. "‘How did we ever get to this spot now where all of the games are on FOX or ESPN?’ Well, you will remember that we started putting games on a channel called FOX College Sports.”
How could Cyclone fans forget that gem of a channel?
When Big 12 games were televised on FOX College Sports, the league’s schools didn’t receive a dime.
“Most people couldn’t get it because it was an obscure channel," Pollard said. "At times, nothing was even on the channel. It only had something on it when there was an event on. As a result of that, sometimes we had to take games at 11 or we did some night games because they were trying to create that channel and they didn’t want to put it up against other games.”
So why do it? The Big 12 had a plan.
“It was basically something that FOX asked schools to do,” Pollard said.
Fast forward to today and FOX is right there with ESPN as one of the two major players in the televising of college football games.
“Had we (the Big 12) not been willing to take that risk back then, who knows if we would have ever gotten to this spot where now, all of the games are on,” Pollard said.
Pollard understands the frustration
Iowa State’s fan base has grown significantly over the last decade and because of that, Pollard knows that Saturday’s game not being available on normal channels will ruffle some feathers.
“When someone out of state says, ‘I can’t watch the game,’ I hear you,” Pollard said. “But five years ago, you couldn’t watch any games. We made some strategic decisions that will now allow you to pretty much get all of the games."
It should also be noted that nearly every market in the country has access to DISH Network, a carrier of the Longhorn Network. You might not get DISH in your living room but chances are, somebody you know or a sports bar in your area has access to it.
“I don’t know if this one will pay off,” Pollard said. “We think it gives us a chance to grow the brand so that eventually, it will add value. That was the reason to do it. We know in the short term there will be some pain for that.”