Terrapins fans won’t be tuning in their television sets to watch Maryland’s football team go for a much-needed victory over Rutgers on Saturday.
For the third straight week, Maryland’s game will be available only on ESPN360.com, a broadband Internet service that allows fans to watch on their computers.
The placement hardly seems ideal for a game between two teams from major media markets, and it’s especially glaring considering that the Terps’ games against Middle Tennessee and James Madison the past two weeks also aired on ESPN360.
The service, however, has expanded its reach and improved enough to serve as a viable option when television doesn’t come calling.
“Obviously, we want to be on national television whenever possible and as often as possible,” said Brian Ullmann, Maryland’s associate athletic director. “But the way the television contracts work, we know that can’t always be the case.”
The matchup between Maryland and Rutgers was beaten out for spots on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU by a pair of Big Ten matchups plus South Florida vs. Florida State and Pittsburgh vs. N.C. State.
ESPN360 vice president Damon Phillips explained things thusly: “The linear networks get their crack, and whatever games are available we take a crack at those.”
In past years, Maryland officials were less accepting of ESPN360 in part because the service was unavailable to subscribers of Comcast’s Internet service in the Baltimore/D.C. region. That dynamic made for unhappy situations: In 2006, for example, Maryland’s game against rival Virginia was moved to the service.
The problem eased in May, when Comcast added ESPN360 to its Internet service, a move that ensured access to the game for most Maryland fans in the area with a high-speed Internet connection.
ESPN360 now is available in 41 million households nationwide and has been used to broadcast a wide array of sports ranging from soccer to Australian rules football to cricket. In the fall and winter, it’s generally the first place to look for any college football or basketball game not available on television.
“People are definitely flocking to the Web to watch live events, and when you layer that with exclusive events where it’s the only place to watch a game, you’re getting a great audience,” Phillips said. “There’s great demand for it, especially when you get to college football season.”
The ESPN360 broadcasts, while good, don’t come close to the high-definition images of broadcast or cable networks. And watching games with a group of friends staring at computer screen isn’t nearly as fun as watching it on a big-screen television.
But the service has steadily improved in quality and usability. With a fast and reliable Internet connection, the picture is sharp enough, and tech-savvy fans find ways to stream the video through their televisions.
To its credit, ESPN ensures that all games broadcast on ESPN360 are fully produced with announcing teams, camera crews and graphics packages. ESPN360 will show 23 college football games this weekend, most of them not available anywhere else.
“It’s not my preference to be on ESPN360,” Ullmann said. “However, it’s better than having no television at all, which without ESPN360 these games would have no exposure of any kind. So therefore, I see it is a good thing. The feedback we’ve gotten has been pretty positive. At least it’s on, and those people who can watch it on the Internet can do it. And it’s actually a pretty good product.”