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Jeff Kolpack, Published July 16 2013

Afternoon scheduling suits Bison, TV well

FARGO – If the starting times for North Dakota State football games were a Twitter hashtag, the name would be obvious: #afternoongames. That’s what’s trending, anyway.

For the first time since the Fargodome opened in 1993, NDSU does not have a home game scheduled at night, and the reason is simple: “It’s good for TV,” said Troy Goergen, NDSU’s senior associate athletic director who handles marketing.

The athletic department is expected to reveal the television schedule next week. For the second straight year, every game will be televised, including the opener at Kansas State that will be part of the

Fox Sports 1 debut.

The network has yet to reach agreements with DirecTV or Dish Network, but Jeremy Jorgenson, the NDSU director of broadcasting, said that should not set off an alarm.

“We’re a month out,” he said. “That usually goes down to the wire.”

If Fox and the satellite providers strike a deal, the reach of the Bison-Wildcats game would be 90 million homes, Jorgenson said.

The reach of NDSU’s other games will probably be more regional. The North Dakota NBC Network carried 10 games last year. Midco Sports Net did the University of South Dakota game in Sioux Falls. All of the playoff games were on an ESPN network, which has the rights to the FCS playoffs.

Jorgenson said the university and Fox Sports North constantly have discussions.

“We try to target what fits us best,” he said.

The afternoon kickoff time slot is fitting best in more ways than TV. Goergen said the mid-afternoon starts allow for fans from out of town time to get to Fargo and enjoy the tailgating atmosphere. They also don’t have to drive home late at night.

It’s a switch in philosophy. NDSU for years played most of its home games at night, although that tapered to mainly September games in recent years.

“The weather would affect (attendance) because maybe people would enjoy that last weekend at the lake or the farming community was busy,” Goergen said. “Now we’ve settled into the afternoon time because of supply and demand, too.”

Specifically, the demand for tickets is higher than the supply. Three weeks ago, NDSU had a waiting list of more than 1,300 season-ticket seats. Single-game tickets go on sale Aug. 1.

“We used to think having a game at 7 would allow us to pick up this many more fans or a 1 o’clock game we would lose this number of fans,” Goergen said. “With tickets sold out for the most part, people seem to make the time now or adjust their schedule. People are planning their social or family calendars around home football games.”

The demand has given the marketing the department the luxury of focusing more on the game-day experience than getting fans to games, too.

The opener against Ferris State (Mich.) has a 4 p.m. kickoff. The homecoming game against Missouri State is a 1 p.m. start, and the other four home games are at 2:30 p.m.

Goergen said conversations with hotel and restaurant owners indicate a preference for afternoon games. It’s also beneficial from a media coverage standpoint, he said.

Night games are also tougher on visiting teams because of the late-night charter flights. Georgia Southern, for instance, had its flight delayed after the playoff night game loss last December, and the Eagles players waited it out watching TV on the Fargodome video boards.

“We are trying to do what’s best for our fans and television coverage, and we feel like our fans like the mid-afternoon,” Jorgenson said. “And it fits TV better.”

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