Brian Bedol, president and CEO of College Sports Television, is about as unfamiliar with launching sports TV networks as the Yankees are with winning a World Series. He launched Classic Sports Network, and, as during that launch, he realizes that, although the focus is on launch day, that's just the beginning, not an end.
"While Feb. 23 is a day where lots of things need to be working, it certainly isn't a date when we need to feel like a mature network," he says. "It's important to have a good look and a strong start, but the way we will look and operate three months, six months or two years after launch is more important."
The key to that, of course, is creating a success with viewers. Bedol's goal is to be in front of 10 million viewers by the end of year one, 30 million by the end of year three. That won't put the network on the same competitive scale as ESPN, but then again, says Bedol, ESPN is not the competition—if for no other reason than CST will focus on competition, something ESPN has moved away from for much of its programming day.
"ESPN does a wonderful job covering sports and programming, and they're looking to grow their revenues, so they're doing [studio and talk shows] rather than live games or events," says Bedol. "In college, there are so many events that are incredible, interesting and dramatic for us to cover that competition will be the focus."
And how. With more than 30 athletic conferences on board, the breadth and depth of competition available will be almost mind-numbing. And because much of that extends beyond the major sports and into less-popular types of competition, the universe expands even more.
"The beauty of college sports is that, unlike professional sports, which has a strong presence in the top 25 markets, it reaches the top 250 markets," says Bedol, a factor he thinks will give the network traction for deals with MSOs. "And, in many markets, college sports are more powerful and significant than professional sports. In Columbus, they aren't worried about Ohio State picking up and leaving town."
The network's technical facility in New York City's Chelsea Piers is still under construction. Plans include a 7,500-square-foot sound stage with 15,000 square feet of additional support space. Staffing levels, currently at 30 people, will ramp up to about 75-80 at launch. Transmission and master-control facilities are part of the mix, as well as post-production facilities. The video departments of colleges and universities will also be involved heavily, providing game footage and even some productions.
The goal from a programming standpoint is to have 40%-50% live or taped game coverage, 20%-30% news desk reports and the rest programs ranging from documentaries to coaches shows and other packaged programs.
But the programming will be very personality-driven, similar to NBC's recent Olympics coverage.
"What makes the Olympics fun to watch is the events you don't see every day," explains Bedol. "You get sucked into the stories. Sports is such an emotional business. If there was anything we learned at Classic, it was that people love to get emotionally involved in sports."