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Don't ask us why games aren't televised

By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
June 3, 2003
I don't know if pay TV for sports events will ever expand from its present boxing-wrestling base but if it does I don't want a telephone on my desk.
American sports fans have become so accustomed to seeing their favorite games and teams on free television they will ring the phone off the hook at any television station or newspaper sports desk if it is ever taken away from them.
It is impossible to count the calls we had at WTOK this past week asking NOT if Mississippi State or Ole Miss or Southern's games in the NCAA Regional baseball Tournaments would be broadcast but WHEN they would be.
And I'm reasonably certain my friends here at The Meridian Star had their share of calls too asking the same thing. Theirs were probably prefaced with "I couldn't find the game in the TV listings so you probably just left them out."
Or words to that effect.
And the reaction when the caller was told none of the games involving the Big Three were going to be on TV can only charitably be reported as "You're kidding aren't you?"
But no, the station was not kidding and the newspaper couldn't list a game that wasn't going to be aired.
The public just doesn't understand the system. A network has to agree to put aside its regular programming and run the ball game instead. But with 64 teams you have 32 games and there are not 32 networks. Only one sports network gave it consideration. It had 32 games from which to choose and none involving Mississippi State, Ole Miss or Southern Mississippi made the cut. Why Auburn instead of a Mississippi team? I don't know. I didn't get a vote.
College baseball does not attract the audiences of football or basketball. The fans who read the previous paragraph would likely point out when the NCAA basketball tournament is played, CBS carries the games and sets up regional feeds so that SEC fans can see a game or games involving SEC teams. PAC 10 fans see PAC 10 teams, Big 12 states see games involving teams from their league and so on.
But there are big bucks involved. CBS asks for, and gets, top dollar for these telecasts because the audience levels are so huge the advertisers are willing to pay it. That is not the case in college baseball. For every tournament game played before a capacity crowd at Starkville or Hattiesburg there is a tournament someplace else that draws only 2,500.
Even that would not affect television if they could prove there was a large audience waiting at home. That would draw advertisers who would have reason to believe the game or games would have enough potential customers tuned in for a company to spend their money to get a message to them.
In Mississippi with all three major universities playing at or about the same time the audience levels for any one game would be tiny indeed.
Now it is true that when one of our colleges plays a minor non conference opponent it is sometimes offered for pay TV within the state. That is not a money maker for the school. It really is primarily for the convenience of the fans who love their school more than their money.
It's not the school's fault nor is it the television station's nor is it the newspaper's problem. All any of them can do is what the networks, including the cable systems, decide is deserving of broadcast. Sometimes it's even more than that. Some Sundays this fall you will pick up The Meridian Star to see what time the New Orleans Saints are on TV. Instead of Saints at Tampa Bay it may be Atlanta and Carolina. And you'll say I don't want to watch Atlanta, I want to see the Saints. And you'll call the TV stations and tell them that somebody screwed up and they've put the wrong game on the air and you'll be wrong.
There is no FOX network station in our market. The closest one is Tuscaloosa. We get the national game of the week in Meridian as decided by Fox. If they say that's Atlanta and Carolina, then Comcast can only show what Channel 10 in Tuscaloosa is getting, Atlanta and Carolina.
Heck, up until last year we couldn't even get the radio broadcasts of the Saints. None of the local stations thought they were a good investment so they played records instead. Will they be heard in Meridian this fall? My guess is they will but no one has told me for certain.
So if and when they put the NFL and NCAA football games, Masters Golf Tournament, NCAA Basketball Tourney, Kentucky Derby and other major sports events on pay television, I'm going to disconnect my office phone. Why not? There won't be anything to say.

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