Why is it so hard for so many people to watch USF games on TV in the Tampa Bay area? Could it get better sometime in the future? Here's the story.
Recently a few USF basketball games have been pre-empted locally and aired on tape delay so that various high school tournaments could be aired live. That made us wonder why USF is partnered up with a network (Bright House Sports) that is only carried by Bright House, leaving people in the area with other cable or satellite providers in the dark if they want to watch a USF football or basketball game on TV.
We thought it was because, like many things, athletics dropped the ball. But it sounds like that isn't the case, although the reality is actually more concerning. Here's what we think we know now, presented in Q&A form:
Q: Has USF always been this hard to find on TV?
A: No. Way back in the day, when USF was just starting football and they played basketball in Conference USA, they had a partnership with SportsChannel Florida (which became Fox Sports Florida) and with WMOR, Channel 32. Some of the games were produced by SCFL, especially the football games. Later, ESPN Plus produced them all, and SCFL and WMOR bought the rights to air them.
Q: So why aren't USF games on those channels anymore? Most of the schools in the state are on either Sun Sports or Fox Sports Florida.
A: No one wanted to sign up to air their games once USF joined the Big East, and ESPN produced them all so they were just signing up to buy programming. Ironically, the problem was that by joining a better league, the options for local carriers became worse. The ESPN networks started keeping all the good games for themselves (and in the case of football, nearly every game). So the economics of signing a contract didn't really work anymore unless you were a brand-new channel, like Bright House's channel, and you needed to buy some programming on the cheap. But even they decided not to sign a new contract, and now they just pick up some games for cheap programming and I guess as a public service.
Q: Is ESPN aware that USF games aren't available on every TV in the market when they decide to black out ESPN 3 locally?
A: I really don't know, but if there's any way to change that, USF should try and get that concession. At least then local fans who don't use Bright House have somewhere to go.
Q: If you have the DIRECTV Sports Pack, are you blacked out in Tampa when SNY or MASN airs a USF game?
A: Collin says no. He's watched all of the games on those channels this season, just like I have. Unfortunately, the ability to watch those games was tied to Syracuse and St. John's and Georgetown being in the conference. Now that they're all going to be gone, we may not be able to see games on those regional sports channels anymore.
Q: What happens when Channel 28 airs a weekend home game instead of Bright House?
A: It just means they saw some value in buying the rights to air that game and paid more money for it. They did it for the Syracuse basketball game and they've also done it for some of the noon football games. Those are all produced by the Big East Network, so stations aren't producing the game, only airing it.
Q: Who is USF's local broadcast partner?
A: That would be WFLA, Channel 8, which airs the USF coaches' shows. But other than that, they don't air any games. (Although with NBC's ratings, maybe they should try it.)
Q: How can we improve this?
A: We can't do much about it right now, but things are about to change. This new league could theoretically make things better on the local TV front, especially if there isn't anything specific in the contract about ESPN having to give the league certain time slots on their channels for football games. If ESPN kicks as many games as humanly possible down to the New Conference Network, or whatever it's called, that gives local and regional channels more games to air, and may make it worth someone's while to sign a contract to air all of them.
The other way things could improve is if USF gets out of the conference and goes somewhere like the ACC, where even the "leftover" games have enough appeal that someone will sign a contract to air them. The ACC Network produces those games and then offers them to networks or channels to air. Fox is one of the partners in the ACC Network, and as an example, they air many of Miami's football and basketball games when they aren't on ESPN channels. So that could, in a roundabout way, get USF back on Fox Sports Florida.