Jared Lankford: Fans lose in broadcasting tug of war

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Technology over the past decade has transformed the way we see the world and gather our information.

On Saturday, I took advantage of a sale and purchased a watch that can stream television shows.

Everywhere we go, and in everything we do, we increasingly rely on gadgets and technological advancements that put almost everything at our fingertips. It is not that we need to, but we can brew coffee at our homes by pressing a button on a mobile device.

I did not need a watch that broadcasts shows, but it makes me feel special. I have in my possession what was once a fictional toy -- a gadget fit for a "James Bond" or "Back to the Future" flick.

My dad, unimpressed, told me the only use that a watch needs to have is to tell the time.

I was checking the time last week during another holiday tradition -- the annual viewing of the Show-Me Bowl football championships.

Regardless of the teams playing, my family and I for the last five years have tuned into the games on Fox Sports Midwest. The station began broadcasting one state title game per year in 1998, then carried Class 1 through 6 games beginning in 2010.

We always found a way to relate to at least one of the teams in each class. Whether we saw them during the season, knew a coach, knew a player or knew someone who lived in the town that a school represented, it really did not take much effort for us to become engaged fans.

However, this year -- for the first time in 17 years -- there was no regular television broadcast for the state championship event.

Articles published by the Springfield News-Leader and St. Louis Post Dispatch said Fox Sports Midwest told the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) it did not want to renew its broadcast contract, according to Jason West, MSHSAA media director.

The contract ended after the 2014-2015 basketball championships.

A statement released by Fox Sports Midwest read the issue was more complex than MSHSAA reported. In part, it proclaimed: "MSHSAA has decided to go in a different direction with its media rights."

What cost thousands of viewers the opportunity to watch the game on Fox Sports Midwest revolved around a third-party vendor -- PlayOn Sports.

Not having control of the all the broadcast rights is what caused Fox Sports Midwest to walk away from the table when the previous agreement ended.

PlayOn Sports offers online streaming video of the games for a fee through the National Federation of High School's website.

For $9.95 for one day, or a monthly fee of $14.95, viewers could log onto their mobile device or computer to watch the state championships.

It is cost-prohibitive for local news stations to broadcast the games. In addition to the equipment and manpower needed for such a task, the station has to pay a $3,000 per game broadcast fee and an additional $1,500 per game fee to rebroadcast the event.

This is why the marriage with Fox was so beautiful. They had the equipment, staff, resources and sales experience to turn a profit -- especially selling DVDs of the game afterwards.

MSHSAA's deal with PlayOn allowed it to broadcast the same event for one-third of the total cost, and sold their own DVDs.

Fox Sports Midwest and MSHSAA had more than six months to reach a compromise, and both ended up walking away.

Players, coaches, fans, schools and communities felt special seeing their games on a broadcast television station. Just ask the folks in Purdy how they felt seeing their basketball team on Fox Sports Midwest.

At the end of the day, while MSHSAA and Fox Sports Midwest argued about the almighty dollar, it is the fans who paid the ultimate price.

It is the fans who had to scramble for alternate viewing solutions. It was the fans who were left behind.

What should have been an over-the-air free broadcast turned into an online only pay-per-view event that not all could access.

MSHSAA should bid the over-the-air broadcast rights for its football and basketball championship events. Let the free market decide who carries the games going forward.

Putting them on television is something that adds a special quality to the event.

It is a pity that people can own a watch capable of brewing coffee at their houses, but a television that cannot tune in to a Missouri state championship football game.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He can be reached at sports@cassville-democrat.com, or 417-847-2610.

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