ORONO, Maine — Saturday marks the beginning of a new era for television coverage of University of Maine football.
That’s because the Black Bears’ game will be shown on a station that is not Channel 5 (WABI) with a play-by-play announcer other than George Hale.
Veteran broadcaster Dan Hannigan will move across the parking lot from his usual perch inside Alfond Arena to the press box at Alfond Stadium, where he will call UMaine’s homecoming football game against William & Mary on WVII (ABC 7) and WFVX (Fox 22) of Bangor.
Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Hannigan who, along with Eric Frede, is the co-owner of Cod Rock Media Productions based in Kittery.
“It’s obviously a very exciting [football] team this year, too, so it’s a great year to be starting this. Hopefully, I won’t be the kiss of death,” Hannigan joked.
UMaine multimedia rights partner Learfield Sports, Rockfleet Broadcasting (WVII/WFVX) and FOX College Sports in July announced they had signed separate, two-year agreements to televise up to 12 UMaine games in football (3), men’s hockey (7) and basketball (1 or 2) during 2013-14.
“We’re very excited about it,” Mike Palmer, the station manager and vice president of the two stations, said of the new undertaking. “When it became available, I knew in an instant this is something we wanted to have — and we got it.”
Learfield will pay UMaine athletics $600,000 for broadcasting and advertising rights for the 2013-14 season, UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott said in July.
Learfield, which is responsible for hiring the on-air talent, has brought in Hannigan to handle play-by-play for football and hockey. He recently began his 18th season doing play-by-play for Black Bear hockey on the radio.
“With the new TV deal, when the opportunity arose, we were able to work it out with any kind of hockey conflicts and it seemed like a good fit, so I said why not,” Hannigan said.
Local broadcasts of UMaine football began in the 1960s, early in the career of longtime Maine broadcaster George Hale (who is still working on the George Hale-Ric Tyler Show) on WVOM radio (103.9 FM).
Hannigan is humbled by the opportunity to call UMaine football.
“He’s an absolute legend when it comes to that, baseball and everything else he’s done,” he said of Hale, who started his career at WABI 60 years ago, in 1953. “I’m not looking to necessarily fill the shoes, I just want to hopefully do a good job.”
Hannigan will be joined on UMaine football broadcasts by WVII and WFVX sports director-turned-producer Brian Sullivan, who will handle color commentary.
Hannigan, a graduate of Dartmouth College, started his broadcasting career in 1993 at WVII-TV and later worked at WZON radio. He was a four-time Maine Sportscaster of the Year.
“It’s going to be an interesting first few games this year, trying to figure out what works,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a feeling-out process for everybody.”
Hannigan, who was on the football team at Dartmouth for two seasons, previously hasn’t done any live TV game broadcasts, so he anticipates having to make a few adjustments.
“With TV, you’ve got to let the pictures tell some of the story as well,” he said. “That’s going to be a challenge for me when I do hockey TV, because I’m so used to saying exactly where the puck is at all times.”
The football games on WVII and WFVX, which will be broadcast in high definition, are being produced for FOX College Sports Network by the Boston-based Pack Network.
The arrangement features what Palmer called major-league talent, which assures the best possible on-air product for eastern Maine viewers.
“The people we hired, this is what they do for a living,” he explained. “They travel market to market, state to state, producing major-college sports. They are top-shelf professionals.”
Hannigan, who complimented Pack Network co-founder K.J. Cardinal and his crew for their professionalism, is looking forward to being in the booth Saturday at Alfond Stadium.
“I’m anxious to get the first one done,” said Hannigan, who has watched the Black Bears’ first two football home games and has been doing considerable homework. “It’s going to be fun, but there’s a lot of preparation.”
Hannigan will then do the radio broadcast of UMaine’s hockey game against Bentley at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.