- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

New College Sports Television (CSTV) thinks it can make money showing everything from Patriot League volleyball to Big Sky Conference lacrosse and a whopping 33 sports from the Ivy League.
Such a rationale, given the currently troubled state of TV sports, falls only a bit short of completely shocking. After all, major networks such as Fox and NBC have lost hundreds of millions on big-time events like the World Series and NBA Finals. Ratings not involving the NFL continue to erode, and network executives are openly rethinking the entire role of sports in their programming lineups.
But New York-based CSTV, set to make its debut on satellite and digital cable TV on Feb.23, thinks it has a formula that could be as groundbreaking as ESPN Classic the now indispensable network founded in 1995 by CSTV executives Brian Bedol and Steve Greenberg.
Backed by more than $100million in start-up capital, the network will aim to be all things to every college sports fan. Although major men's Division I football and basketball will not be shown because of contracts that keep those games elsewhere, every other level and sport will be aired.
The network will debut with a high-profile women's basketball game between Connecticut and Notre Dame, then go all the way down to minor conference fencing, cross country and wrestling. Heavy and emotional storytelling usually limited to the Olympics will be commonplace.
"It's a very basic thesis, really," said Chris Bevilacqua, CSTV executive vice president. "In a 200-channel, 300-channel universe continuing to expand, there absolutely ought to be a college sports network, something totally devoted to that level of play. That niche wasn't being served."
So what is CSTV's formula, considering the falling rates elsewhere? By remaining on satellite and digital cable, the network will keep a conservative business plan that calls for low production costs, programming deals that call only for minor rights fees or sharing of advertising revenue, and a targeted pursuit of young, affluent viewers and devoted alumni who want to keep following their alma maters.
"I'm excited at the possibility of what this could be," said Doug Fullerton, commissioner of the Big Sky Conference, one of 27 that will appear on CSTV. "Out west where we are, it's hard sometimes to get exposure. This obviously offers that, and not just for major sports. We have top athletes in a lot of other sports, particularly track and field, that we want to showcase."
CSTV executives are projecting to be in 10 million homes within one year and 20 million within two. No carriage agreements with cable or satellite TV operators have been announced yet, but several major deals are expected by early April, when a six-week free trial period offered by CSTV expires. The nine-figure largess in start-up funds which includes the high-profile support of Kevin Garnett, Joe Namath and several other athletes is designed to carry the venture to profitability, not scheduled to arrive until at least 2006.
An early criticism of CSTV has been a lack of regionalization in its programming that will subject viewers on one coast to games from the other. But Bevilacqua insists the complaints are unfounded.
"We're not going to have a situation where everybody watches everything we have," he said. "It's obviously foolish to think we'll have anything close to that. If I really like the Sopranos and the Sopranos is only thing I watch on HBO, that doesn't mean I absolutely shouldn't get HBO. It means I'm picking and choosing what I want to see. That happens all the time. We just need to be one of people's favorite [networks]."
CSTV also will supplement the game action with studio and highlight shows, interviews, replays of classic college games and news segments.
"It's just so simple," Bevilacqua said. "There is an obvious abundance of available programming. If you're a college athletic director, there's no reason not to get behind this. The audience demographics should be very, very strong. The TV business is really changing, and we think there's a real place for a well-executed niche like ours."

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