After an 18-year marriage, UConn women’s basketball and CPTV separated last month. And like in real life, the parting hit hard, primarily in the offices and hearts of Connecticut’s public television station.
CPTV highly valued the relationship. In many ways, the affiliation was its identity, pumping oxygen, resources and notoriety into its body. And when it ended, and the nation’s No. 1 public broadcasting show left for SNY, CPTV felt a large part of itself go, too.
But life goes on. And while SNY’s executives in New York plot strategy for the UConn women over the next four years, CPTV is back on its feet, looking into the future of sports programming for its flagship and new sibling, CPTVSports.
Already the place for an eclectic array of state events – from high school games to Roller Derby to college sports – CPTVSports is in its first season with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. This week, the network will be looking to expand its collegiate coverage, meeting with the University of Hartford to primarily discuss the escalation of coverage of its women’s and men’s basketball, which began three years ago on CTSN, the predecessor of CPTVSports.
“In the first two years with them we did eight games, six women’s basketball and two men’s basketball,” said Dan Ruede, an assistant athletic director of the university. “This past year, we added one more men’s game, plus a soccer game and four men’s lacrosse games. Certainly, we’d hope they [CPTVSports] would be interested in mirroring with us what it had with the UConn women. But at the very least, we’d love to be able to build on what we already have, whether just for basketball or across the board.”
Perhaps sooner than later, CPTV and UConn will talk again; not about women’s basketball, but baseball, soccer and hockey. For now, the biting post-parting comments of CPTV CEO Jerry Franklin about UConn’s decision still simmer. Multiple sources indicate it may be some time before UConn’s anger with Franklin fades, particularly that of President Susan Herbst.
Still, business is business and on the verge of a likely affiliation with Hockey East, UConn will be looking for a place to show off its newest national program. Could reconciliation be possible?
“That [UConn] will be a wait and see [situation],” said Bob Yalen, CPTVSports channel director. “From my standpoint, do we miss UConn? Obviously, we do. But you still can’t dismiss all the other colleges in the state, because of all the sports they play. Are we interested in Hartford? Absolutely we are.”
The relationship with the Sun is one-year trial balloon, set aloft to see where the wind takes it.
“We have a discussion every year about whether we locally televise too many or too few games,” said Chris Sienko, the Sun general manager. “We looked at the UConn on model on television over the 18 years they were on CPTV. It allowed everyone to see what their [women’s basketball] program was all about. We wonder if we telecast games will people now come. Of if we don’t, will they not see what they are missing [by staying home].
“And our arrangement with CPTV [and CPTVSports] was in place long before UConn made its decision. We are excited to be with them. What we will do is assess what the attendance has been, and what the ratings are and decide what the next step is.”
The Sun’s CPTVSports schedule will include at least 20 of its 34 regular-season games. For now, all the games are shown on CPTVSports, but there is discussion about simulcasting some games on CPTV, as well.
“It was interesting to see how CPTV went forward with its fundraising efforts [during UConn games] and I think we [the Sun] would have to work through that,” Sienko said. “I don’t know if it [pledge drives] would it work with our brand, our commercials, etc. But for me right now, I am happy, although we are only five games into the season.”
CPTVSports has retained former UConn stars Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters and Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti to share analyst roles next to veteran play-by-play mainstay, Bob Heussler. After games are shown lives on CPTVSports, they are replayed daily.
“Everything has been upbeat and positive thus far,” Yalen said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the number of emails and messages I’ve received, either from fans thanking us for putting the games on or from those asking where they can find us on the dial.
“We are calling every day a “SUN day” by making sure that every day there is either a live telecast or a repeat of a game. We want to make sure everyone is aware they are with us. And we will do as many games as the Sun would like us to do.”
The Sun holds the option to continue the deal in 2013 and will use television ratings, attendance figures and fan surveys to help it decide whether to renew. Perhaps CPTVSports’ biggest job this season, aside from assuring a professional quality telecast, will be to guarantee its availability statewide. Right now, ATT U-verse and DirectTV do not carry the network.
Through the first four home games this season, the Sun’s average attendance modesty exceeds 2011 (6,887 in 2012, 6,644 in 2011).
“We don’t believe we are going to lose the fans that are already here [to see games live],” Sienko said. “What we hope to do is extend the brand to others. There is nothing like the live experience of sports. We hope the exposure on television will help provide an entrée to attending a game at the Mohegan Sun.”
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