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The Mtn. Set To Fold at End of May

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Some people wanted it but couldn’t get it. Others could get it but didn’t want it.

Meanwhile, the college athletic entity it was established to cover had been shaken to the foundation by conference realignment. The future, if not bleak, was uncertain.

Thus, to the surprise of few, The Mountain West Sports Network – better known as The Mtn. – is going away.

No official announcement has come from the network itself or from its parent networks, CBS and NBC Universal/Comcast. But Hayne Ellis, the Mtn.’s director of communications and affiliate relations, told the Journal the network’s last day of operation will be May 31.

“The network was created to serve viewers and fans who had previously been under-served, and I think we were successful in that endeavor,” Ellis said.

“We have a lot of people who take pride in their work. We have a lot of people who went to Mountain West schools and had a personal connection to it. It’s certainly disappointing.”

Studio anchor Marius Payton was the first person hired at the network.

“I’ve gotten a lot of tweets and emails from Albuquerque and the Lobo faithful,” Payton said. “That’s something I’m really going to miss about covering the Mountain West Conference, is the passion of fans like those.”

Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson acknowledged the shutdown of The Mtn. via a prepared statement.

“This is simply one step in the ongoing, evolutionary process, which is focused on developing a new organization and structure,” Thompson said. “The goals continue to be creating greater stability, broader exposure platforms and increased revenue, and we are progressing in each of those areas with the appropriate parties.”

It’s not clear whether The Mtn.’s impending demise means there’s good news on the TV front elsewhere, or simply an admission that the premise didn’t work as well as hoped. According to several sources, The Mtn. is available in about 13 million homes. ESPN, the Mountain West’s original carrier, is available in about 100 million.

The Mountain West broke with ESPN because the cable sports giant was offering less in renegotiations than the $48 million the league got from the original 1999 deal, and signed in 2004 with CSTV – The Mtn.’s parent network, now CBS Sports Network – for about $82 million over seven years.

What’s next?

The Mountain West still has agreements in place with CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus). Certainly, some Mountain West games will be aired on those networks next season – and with deeper penetration than on The Mtn.

But, without The Mtn., the depth and breadth of that coverage is in question.

The league is in discussions with Conference USA to join forces in some fashion, starting in 2013-14. Conference USA also has a relationship with CBS, and the two leagues are negotiating together with that network.

University of New Mexico President David Schmidly is part of a group of Mountain West and Conference USA presidents tasked with TV negotiations. Efforts to reach Schmidly on Friday were unsuccessful.

The Mountain West Sports Network debuted in September 2006, as the first TV network solely dedicated to a particular conference. Distribution was a problem from the beginning.

Cable systems were slow to sign on; DirecTV didn’t come on board until 2008; DISH Network never did.

Still, The Mtn. and its partners – CBS College Sports and Versus – combined to televise a staggering number of Mountain West football and men’s basketball games. Women’s basketball also got unprecedented exposure. Mountain West Olympic sports programs benefited, as well, to a lesser extent.

In addition to game coverage, The Mtn. produced and aired features and studio shows.

The Mtn. was nominated for 28 Emmy Awards and won five.

Ellis said The Mtn. has 44 employees. He said NBC Sports Group Properties is helping them find jobs. Those who don’t want to relocate or stay in broadcasting will get severance packages, he said.

Staff writer Mark Smith contributed to this report.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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