Peer over the shoulder of a SNY sports anchor, any time of the day they are on, and see New York City staring back from the outside. Yes, that’s Radio City Music Hall in the background. At night, its marquee casts crimson light on Sixth Avenue.
But if UConn women’s basketball fans want to see New York, they can take Metro North, the tour bus or brave the West Side Highway at rush hour. As if relates to SNY, its ambitious goals and 14 million viewers nationwide, the constituency of the seven-time national champions has just one simple request; well, it’s actually more of a demand – televise and treat “our girls” in the fashion they are accustomed.
That’s what SNY plans to do. That is why they aggressively pursued the women’s basketball television contract when it came due after 18 years with Connecticut Public Television and will pay the school $1.1 million a year for the next four seasons.
“The UConn program is the standard for women’s college basketball,” said SNY President Steve Raab, a former Milford resident. “When I was a kid, UCLA was the men’s standard. And UConn is so clearly that on the women’s side. Having lived in the New Haven area, I find it remarkable that a women’s basketball program can have this kind of impact on an entire state. And you see that manifested in their television ratings. In every respect, it rivals the storied men’s program.
“And when you layer on top it the success and stability of the program, which Geno Auriemma represents, we’d like to believe UConn women’s basketball will be a power for a long time to come.”
From the SNY executive suite Wednesday, Raab said the network is committed to the best interests of the vast UConn viewership, whose nervousness about this new landscape he and Curt Gowdy, Jr., the network’s senior vice president of production and executive producer, are acutely aware.
For those viewers who chose not to buy SNY on their cable systems, Raab said live streaming, like CPTV’s HoopStreams was, will be available on its website – for a price still to be determined – through an association it has with MLB Advance Media, which broadcasts March Madness and among other shows. Only DishNetwork subscribers will not be able to see the UConn women because the satellite service does not provide it.
Gowdy, Jr. – the son of the legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster, with more than 25,000 hours of live sports telecasts on his resume – is in charge of molding the coverage, pregame to postgame and everything in between.
He will hire the announcers and studio hosts. His vision will take “The Geno Auriemma Show” in a new direction. There will a new show, tentatively scheduled to be called “Geno’s Legacy” which plans to feature the coach sitting and chatting with one of his players who has made a difference.
“One thing the viewers will get is more compelling and comprehensive coverage of the team then they’ve ever seen before,” Gowdy said. “We will try to put bows around the games. You want to tell the story from the beginning of the day to the end. This is our opportunity to be attached to one of the most historic programs in the history of college sports, a program that develops young women that go on to be professionals and mentors and not only in basketball. And they are taught by one of the greatest mentor of all, Geno Auriemma.”
Raab and Gowdy said a major emphasis will be made to develop features that tell the story of UConn and their players, past and present, away from the court. SNY will hire talent for pregame and postgame shows for conference games and specials and a sideline reporter, all new to the UConn audience. Familiar faces such at CPTV’s long-time broadcast team, Bob Picozzi and Meghan Culmo, are among those being considered.
“We will have more access to Geno during and before games,” Gowdy said. “There hopefully will be enhanced audio with Geno in places the audience hasn’t seen or heard before.”
There is a sense at UConn that the approach will be new, the quality of production equal to what Mets fans see in the summertime. SNY will produce and televise of its games. It does not plan to take feeds of other telecasts, as CPTV often had to do.
“We believe the quality of the production will be extraordinary as SNY has television professionals with decades of experience,” said Mike Enright, UConn’s associate athletic director for communications. “We believe postgame and pregame wraparound shows will be terrific in addition to “The Geno Show.”
Enright said UConn is excited about exposing its school and athletic program to into SNY’s vast audience.
“The ability to draw a different demographic to our program, women’s basketball in general, is very appealing,” Enright said. “It is no mystery we need to sell more tickets to games so we are looking at brining more fans from a different demographic, while maintaining our same demographic.”
What will not change is the number of telecasts SNY will have available. It will be somewhere between 17 and 21, once ESPN and CBS make their choices. The majority of Big East games will be on SNY as will most of the non-conference contests that don’t involve big name opponents, like Texas A&M, Duke, Baylor and Stanford.
There will be times when all three UConn programs are playing on the same day. The Huskies football team’s last two games are at Louisville (Nov. 24) and home against Cincinnati (Dec. 1), both potential game days for men’s and women’s basketball. Raab says there will be plenty of time once the schedules are released – around Labor Day – to figure out what needs to be done to deal with potential conflicts. He says SNY is committed to telecast each game awarded to it.
“There will be few if any conflicts with football,” Raab said. “As for basketball, we carry many men’s game, including other Big East schools. But when we sit down in advance of the season to schedule games, settling conflicts are easy, whether it means not taking another men’s game [not UConn] because it may have another outlet or move the game a few hours in some direction.
Raab said SNY will work with UConn to determine what starting times are best for the women.
“Our druthers would be to take a night game,” Raab said. “The viewership is higher at night. But if it’s best for the program to have more weekend day games, that will be their call and we will adjust. That’s a part of the collaboration you need to have. We need to support each other. UConn is a better judge of what’s best for itself, its school and its fans.”
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