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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 22 2013

Forum Communications chosen over ND NBC Network to televise future ND high school activities

FARGO – In an agenda item that at times had the competitiveness of a sporting event, the North Dakota High School Activities Association on Friday took a major step in flipping its five-year television rights contract.

The group’s Board of Directors voted to enter into negotiations with Forum Communications for the rights to televise North Dakota high school athletics beginning next school year. If successful, it would end a three-decade run by the North Dakota NBC Network.

Forum Communications owns WDAY-TV in Fargo. The NBC Network is affiliated with Valley News Live in Fargo. Both media proposals call for statewide television coverage with a network of stations to air football, boys and girls basketball and boys and girls hockey state tournaments.

The final vote was 9-2 to follow the recommendation of a three-person NDHSAA media committee, which earlier in the day gave approval of the Forum bid that totaled $680,000 over the five-year period. The North Dakota NBC bid was just over $651,000.

It was a unique contest in that it was the first time more than one media company submitted a bid to the Board of Directors in executive director Sherm Sylling’s veteran tenure with the NDHSAA.

“For as long as I can remember,” he said.

Valley News Live General Manager Jim Wareham, representing the NBC Network, stressed his company’s long relationship with the NDHSAA and problem-free broadcasts of his company. He said the western NBC stations have higher ratings than the ABC stations that would be part of the Forum Communications network.

Bill Marcil Jr., the chief operating officer of Forum Communications and publisher of The Forum newspaper, pointed to the future, such as the NDHSAA’s music competition, which he said “is a TV show waiting to happen.” Both stations said state tournaments next year would be televised in high definition.

Marcil and Wareham debated internet streaming rights with Board members, with Wareham withdrawing NBC’s digital proposal after a couple Board members wondered if the NDHSAA should use its own site to stream games – and hence gain possible advertising revenue.

Later, Marcil did the same.

Board members also questioned a Forum stipulation that other stations could not air state tournament highlights until each evening session was finished. TV stations in the Forum package include WDAZ in Grand Forks, KBMY in Bismarck, KMCY in Minot, KXMD in Williston and KXMA-2 in Dickinson.

The media committee meeting had a similar feel.

Wareham queried the committee on the value of public service announcements, which he put his value at $75,000 compared to the Forum’s $35,000.

But media committee member Larry Helvik of Beach said that was an item that still was to be negotiated with Forum Communications. The media committee made it clear negotiable items still technically could keep the bid open until all parties are satisfied.

“We’ll do more than the minimums,” Marcil said. “We’ll do what is right for you.”

Sue Eider, the television operations manager for WDAY-TV, said the last time her station was involved in North Dakota high school athletics was around 1980.

Why now?

“We had it before and we’re ready to get back into it again,” she said. “We have entities along with the print, the interactive media, a huge package we can provide them.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia