BANGOR, Maine — Bangor’s WVII ABC 7 and WFVX FOX 22 announced in June that it reached an agreement to broadcast five Husson University games this season.
Now they’ve added the University of Maine to their TV package.
The institution and multimedia rights partner Learfield Sports have signed separate two-year agreements with WVII/WFVX’s Rockfleet Broadcasting and FOX College Sports to televise up to 12 University of Maine games this season.
They will televise seven men’s hockey games, three football games and up to two basketball games and all will be carried in high-definition for the first time.
They will also carry all 14 Black Bear Insider shows which showcase the university’s athletes and programs.
The partnership became possible after contract negotiations between Learfield and WABI TV Channel 5 broke off in January. WABI-TV Channel 5 and Learfield had a pair of three-year deals and were negotiating for a third three-year partnership when talks fell apart.
The games on WVII and WFVX will be produced by the Pack Network, which has produced collegiate sports in HD for numerous schools in the northeast as well as for Hockey East and America East. The Pack Network is based in Portsmouth, N.H.
WABI-TV Channel 5 used to produce its own broadcasts.
WVII ABC 7 and FOX 22 General Manager Mike Palmer said they were “very excited” about the deal. He wouldn’t disclose the financial arrangement but said it was “definitely worth it.”
“Maine has been one of the premier sports programs in the northeast for a long time and it’s exciting to be a part of it. Coming on the heels of our arrangement with Husson, this clearly makes us the local sports leader [TV-wise],” said Palmer. “And it’s exciting to be able to show it in clear, bright, crisp high-definition.”
“The most exciting thing is the transition to high-definition,” said Abbott. “That is going to help especially with hockey broadcasts. But it will also help with everything they show.”
He also said he has seen other Pack Network-produced telecasts and “they do a terrific job. The put together a very nice broadcast visually.”
Abbott said the university received $600,000 from Learfield for the broadcast-advertising rights for the 2013-2014 season. Learfield Sports is multimedia rights management firm based in Jefferson City, Mo. It manages the broadcast rights for several institutions, including UMaine since March 2006.
The UMaine games and Black Bear Insider shows will all be aired on FOX College Sports and on either WVII ABC 7 or on FOX 22. They won’t be shown on both ABC 7 and FOX 22 at the same time.
Andrew Stuebner, general manager of Black Bear Sports Properties which is Learfield’s local entity, said he is “pumped” by the arrangement and said they are still working on trying to land an ABC/FOX affiliate in the Portland area.
He said having the games and the Black Bear Insider shows on FOX College Sports “gives us a strong national presence” to go with their instate presence.
“Currently, our statewide coverage is available to 385,000 households and we’ll have over 60 million nationwide on Fox College Sports,” said Stuebner. “That is another key piece as well. Having national exposure will help our recruiting efforts.”
He also said since Learfield Sports contracts out to the Pack Network, they will have “more control over the content.”
Stuebner said in addition to trying to line up an affiliate in the Portland area, they are also hoping to finalize the schedule of games. That will depend on which games are available after other cable television schedules are released. In some cases, such as the New England Sports Network’s coverage of Hockey East games, there is an exclusivity clause which prevents local stations from televising games when that network is carrying one.
Stuebner will clarify the broadcast schedule at a later date and will have the FOX College Sports networks listed for cable and satellite viewers.
Palmer said they have submitted the names of their on-air personnel to Learfield and Pack Network for game coverage and the Black Bear Insider shows, but it will be up to Learfield and the Pack Network to select the on-air talent.
Abbott acknowledged that the televising of games could hurt attendance.
“There’s always a give and take,” said Abbott. “Having a hockey game on TV when we’re getting nine inches of snow will probably hurt our ticket sales. On the other hand, you get so many more fans through TV. We have calculated that the dip in attendance is worth it.”
In a press release, Gary Ehrlich, executive vice president of FOX College Sports, said “FOX College Sports is excited to partner with Maine to bring Black Bear games to a national audience, making it easier for family, friends and alumni to follow their favorite student-athletes. We look forward to a great slate of football, hockey and basketball games this season.”
Joe Ferreira, Learfield Sports chief content officer, said in the release it was “imperative for us to develop a television package for the Black Bears that was beneficial for the university and a quality deliverable for the fans. We are excited about the local and national distribution we’ve assembled with our ABC-FOX and FOX College Sports agreements, knowing we are giving the fans first-class productions.”
Abbott admitted he was getting a “little nervous” about the TV negotiations, “but [Learfield] assured us all along that they were going to make it happen and they did.”