ESPNU hopes increase popularity of a slew of sports
Posted: Friday February 25, 2005 3:46PM; Updated: Friday February 25, 2005 5:20PM
It will be all about college athletics, and maybe some ESPN personalites, on ESPNU.
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It's assets include a chain of restaurants, a sports drink and Stephen A. Smith. And now you can add farm system to ESPN's resume thanks to ESPNU, a 24-hour college sports television network that will launch in three million homes on March 4. The network plans to air plenty of Division I football and men's and women's basketball games from conferences that ESPN holds the television rights to, but are not often aired nationally. It will also give ESPN a training ground to develop new talent. Says Burke Magnus, ESPNU vice president and general manager: "We're excited to sort of develop the next generation of talent."
ESPNU currently has deals with DirecTV's premium-sports tier and a carriage agreement on Adelphia's digital basic platform. Magnus said the network's goal is to be on digital basic packages. He also envisions ESPNU as a platform to grow the television base of college sports such as baseball, softball, lacrosse, ice hockey, wrestling, and women's volleyball. The network will air roughly 300 live events annually. "I really think if we give a meaningful push to these sports, they can really take off," Magnus said.
The signature anchor of the network will be Mike Hall, who has emerged as the Project Runway of ESPN. Hall, who turned 23 this month, was the original Dream Job contest winner, and will be based in Charlotte, which will be the production headquarters for ESPNU and is the home of ESPN Regional Television.
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ESPNU will officially launch at 7 p.m. on March 4 with a two-hour live edition of College GameDay from Stillwater, Okla. that will be simulcast on ESPN2. (The crew is in town for Texas at Oklahoma State). Following that show, ESPNU will air its first live event -- a men's semifinal game from the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament -- followed by a first-round men's basketball game from the West Coast Conference Tournament. Summer programming will be tricky, with re-airings of previous games, and themed programming such as a block of the entire season of Ohio State or Florida football.
Like any great college rivalry, ESPNU enters a marketplace currently occupied by CSTV Networks and FOX College Sports. How much did ESPN's competitors influence this new venture? "I get the question a lot," Magnus said. "Is this a response to them? I'm more focused on what we can be. We did this for our own right reasons. The timing was perfect. I'm not necessarily focused on who was first. I think it's going to be who was best at the end of the day."
Gotta have Genius
We all know there's plenty of self-promotion on this site -- by the way, don't forget to catch SI's Q&A column each and every week written by yours truly -- but I'm compelled to cite this week's issue of SI On Campus. It's terrific, and dedicated to the Top 16 college movies of all time. But while I really dig the issue, I've got some serious issues with the list compiled by SIOC's writers (average age: 13 years, 8 months).
The top 16: 1. Old School 2. PCU 3. Good Will Hunting 4. National Lampoon's Animal House 5. Drumline 6. Rudy 7. Van Wilder 8. Breaking Away 9. Road Trip 10. Without Limits 11. Revenge of the Nerds 12. The Program 13. Blue Chips 14. Horse Feathers 15. Wonder Boys 16. Love & Basketball
Oh, where to begin. First, it's hard to take this list seriously with the gross omission of Real Genius, the Gabe Jarret-Val Kilmer classic. And while I'm absolutely in support of Old School as the top choice, I'm indignant with PCU over Animal House. That's like taking Brigitte Nielsen over Grace Kelly. Or Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning. Younger doesn't always mean better, kids. Monet may be older than Christo and Jeanne-Claude but Waterlilies versus The Gates isn't exactly a close contest.