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Tom Miller / Forum Communications Co., Published June 25 2012

Midcontinent Communications acquires broadcasting rights of UND athletics

GRAND FORKS –University of North Dakota athletics has a new broadcasting partner and a deal with a hefty price tag.

Midcontinent Communications announced Monday it has acquired the broadcasting rights of UND athletics for $1 million over a five-year span.

UND’s previous broadcasting contract, with Forum Communications Co., was worth $40,000 per season.

“They see the potential,” UND athletic director Brian Faison said. “Financially, it’s great. We’ve been working hard to find new revenue streams for the program so this is a critical piece to add to the mix.”

The way UND fans view game broadcasts will go relatively unchanged, but the company producing the coverage has swapped hands. Games were previously produced by Fighting Sioux Sports Network in affiliation with WDAZ-TV in Grand Forks. In the past, Midcontinent has aired UND content produced by FSSN.

“This agreement continues to give all of our teams tremendous exposure, and strengthens a great relationship between UND athletics and Midco Sports Network,” Faison said. “Midco Sports’ commitment to improvements in production, the future conversion to high definition and the continued regional exposure is very important. Our fans will be thrilled with this partnership.”

Midcontinent Communications is a regional cable provider in North Dakota, South Dakota and western Minnesota.

Midcontinent is provided to cable subscribers in West Fargo and Moorhead, but not in Fargo. CableOne is the cable provider in Fargo.

CableOne picked up UND’s full television schedule of 40 live events last year – events that were produced through the Fighting Sioux Sports Network.

Just as with FSSN, CableOne will now have the option of carrying the Midcontinent-produced UND content.

“I can’t see that (UND) would make any dramatic changes to prevent us from picking it up again, mostly for the benefit of the UND fan,” CableOne general manager Scott Geston said. “We will look at it like we do with everything else and make a determination after we get the paper work.”

Geston estimated CableOne will make a decision by late summer or early fall on whether they will pick up the television package.

In the 2012-13 season, Midco Sports Network will broadcast up to 45 live UND games, plus up to 40 weekly special shows. Those 45 games will include all home men’s hockey games, five home football games, five home men’s and women’s basketball games, four home women’s hockey games and three home volleyball matches.

“It’s phenomenal to add such a great selection of UND games and special programming to our broadcast schedule,” said Mark Powell, Midcontinent Communication’s Vice President of Business Solutions.

The contract requires Midcontinent to carry live events in high definition by the third year of the deal. Midcontinent will absorb those production costs.

The company also plans to hire three new positions in Grand Forks. Powell said the company hopes to hire a senior producer, a production assistant and on-air talent by the end of July.

As has been the case for the past few seasons, Midcontinent’s UND broadcasts will be available for Fox College Sports to broadcast nationwide.

As previously reported, that will change in the 2013-14 men’s hockey season when UND joins the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The NCHC’s television contract with CBS College Sports gives CBS national exclusivity for national broadcasts.

UND’s other sports could still be aired on FCS, but UND and FCS will have to renegotiate a contract after the 2012-13 season.

Midco Sports Network has three channels at its disposal in case of scheduling conflicts, although UND is expected to be primarily carried on MSN’s main channel. In the past, MSN has aired programming from schools such as South Dakota State, South Dakota, Augustana and a few others, as well as high school games from North and South Dakota.

Powell said feedback from MSN’s coverage the past few years has been positive.

“The fans are appreciative of our production quality,” he said. “We continue to improve our on-screen presence. We have production elements we hope to enhance. We’ll probably add a penalty clock to the hockey broadcasts.”

Forum Communications also submitted a bid for broadcasting rights. Attempts to reach FCC Broadcasting late Monday were unsuccessful.

Miller writes for the Grand Forks Herald