AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Principals’ Association announced Tuesday its 36-year relationship with the Maine Public Broadcasting Network appears to be over and it is seeking bidders to broadcast high school tournament basketball games.
Cory Morrissey, director of marketing and underwriting for MPBN, said that since the Maine Principals’ Association has added a fifth class this season, Class AA, that means there will be games going simultaneously at three different sites instead of two, and they “simply don’t have the resources to do it.”
“We don’t have enough staff to go to three different places, and we would also need to have equipment at all three sites, and we can’t move stuff around like that,” said Morrissey.
In the past, MPBN has rented and borrowed equipment, relied on media-partner involvement and MPBN staff volunteers to provide the games to the state.
Beginning this winter, the five classes of basketball championships will be held at sites in Bangor, Augusta and Portland starting on Feb. 16.
In the past, MPBN has televised the regional semifinals and finals along with the state championship games.
However, Morrissey said that MPBN will put in a bid to televise the 10 state championship games because they will be held at two sites each night instead of three, which makes it feasible for them to carry the games on their two signals.
MPBN submitted a similar proposal in October, but it was rejected by the Maine Principals’ Association.
“Let me be clear, MPBN is committed to high school basketball this year as we have been over the past 36 years,” said Mark Vogelzang, MPBN’s CEO, in a news release. “We believe our solution is good for the teams, the athletes and good for Maine supporters of high school athletics. I am hoping that the [Maine Principals’ Association] accepts our bid to cover the state finals and our basketball tradition will continue.”
The two Class A and two Class B state championship games will be held in Portland and Bangor, respectively, on Feb. 26, and the AA, C and D games will be held the next day in Portland (AA) and Augusta (C, D).
MPBN also will offer to rebroadcast the games the following day.
Morrissey said even though MPBN loses between $20,000 to $30,000 per year on the basketball coverage, “we love doing them and feel it is part of our mission.”
“We really feel it is important to be out there in the Maine communities in as many ways as possible,” said Morrissey, who estimated that MPBN televised between 42-44 games a year ago.
MPBN also televises the state cheerleading competitions.
Bid proposals would include live television coverage statewide of all classes at all sites for regional semifinals, finals and state championship games; live television coverage at each site for regional semifinals, finals and state championships; live Web streaming for all classes at all sites, or live Web streaming at each specific site, according to the Maine Principals’ Association.
Dick Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, said they have outlined four possible scenarios for television coverage of the tournaments.
“Ideally, we would love to see one entity step in at all three sites and televise the games,” said Durost. “It would be easier for the public to follow and easier for us [to deal with just one entity]. But we recognize that may be difficult for any local ABC, CBS or NBC station to free up that kind of air time [and pre-empt regular programming].
“Our second preference would be to have different entities at each of the three sites. That would still be serving the public with the statewide presentation of the tournaments,” said Durost.
The third and fourth options would be live Web streaming coverage for all classes at all sites and live Web streaming at each specific site. That would include regional semifinals, finals and state championship games in each instance.
“We realize a lot of people can’t get out to Bangor, Augusta and Portland, and we certainly hope we’ll be able to do something to keep this going. We’re optimistic,” Durost said.
Mike Young, the vice president and general manager of the Community Broadcast Service (WABI TV 5 and The CW in Bangor), which annually televises all of the state championship football games, said the Maine Principals’ Association should accept MPBN’s bid to air the state games.
“That’s a pretty darned good offer,” said Young. “I don’t know of any broadcasters who can pull off televising five classes of games at three different sites [for the regional semifinals and final as well as the state games] and logistically and practically. There’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle that have to be assembled.”
He said MPBN has done an outstanding job televising the games in the past and deserves the opportunity to carry the state games.
Both WABI and Bangor’s WVII/Fox 22 were noncommittal on whether they may submit bids to do any of the tourney games.
Craig Colson, WVII/Fox 22 news director, said they are digesting the situation and has no comment at this time.
Lee Goldberg, sports director at WCSH-Channel 6 (Portland)/WLBZ Channel 2 (Bangor), said since the broadcast rights have become available for the first time in 36 years, “it would be silly not to have a conversation about it.”
WCSH-WLBZ has streamed live high school football and basketball games on a weekly basis for several years.
Time Warner has assisted MPBN in its past coverage, but spokesman Scott Pryzwansky said it’s too early in the process to comment on any future plans by the cable company.
MPBN began telecasting Classes B, C, D tourney games in 1979 and added Class A games in 2003 when WABI-TV of Bangor and the Maine Principals’ Association ended a 50-year association.
Durost will clarify questions to potential bidders until noon Thursday, Nov. 12, and asks that all questions should first be sent as an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bids must arrive at the Maine Principals’ Association office by 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, and the Maine Principals’ Association will reserve the right to change the date if deemed necessary.
Durost said they are cognizant of the fact stations need time to attract advertisers in their quest to put together a bid, and they are sympathetic to that process.
BDN writer Ryan McLaughlin contributed to this report