Montana politicians join chorus against ESPN broadcast plans

2011-11-22T20:15:00Z 2011-11-29T17:44:56Z Montana politicians join chorus against ESPN broadcast plansBy GREG RACHAC Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
November 22, 2011 8:15 pm  • 

Fans of the Bobcats and Grizzlies have voiced their displeasure with ESPN's decision not to air their teams' Dec. 3 playoff games on television.

Now Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg have joined the chorus.

ESPN, the exclusive broadcast rights-holder for the NCAA Division I Football Championship, will air the majority of the first- and second-round playoff games on its Internet channel, ESPN3.com, and nowhere else.

That includes the Bobcats' second-round game against New Hampshire and the Grizzlies' Round 2 contest against either Central Arkansas or Tennessee Tech.

And that's bad news for folks in the Treasure State, the majority of who do not have access to ESPN3.

On Tuesday, Baucus and Tester, both Montana Democrats, urged ESPN to rethink its broadcast plans.

Tester wrote a letter to ESPN president George Bodenheimer, asking the network to "consider working with Montana broadcast stations or cable providers to make TV feeds of these FCS playoff games reasonably available to Montana fans.

"Airing these games in Montana will allow ESPN to be part of a time-honored pastime in the Treasure State."

Baucus, in turn, said in a statement: "In the spirit of teamwork and good sportsmanship, I'm hoping ESPN will rethink its decision and work with Montanans to make sure fans are able to support their teams through the playoffs.

"It's time for a timeout so we can take a look at this game plan and make sure it works for Montanans."

Rehberg also sent a letter to Bodenheimer. The Montana Republican told the network executive he is "not writing to challenge the legal right ESPN has paid to control the broadcast rights for these games.

"On the contrary, I'm hoping that you will recognize the simple fact that you stand to gain more from any arrangement that allows these games to be broadcast on local stations."

ESPN3 is not available to residents of Montana unless their Internet provider is 3 Rivers Communications, which is headquartered in Fairfield, Range Telephone Cooperative out of Forsyth, or Triangle Communications out of Havre.

Fans of Montana and Montana State have bombarded ESPN with emails and phone calls in the last two days in an effort to sway the network. Additionally, a Facebook petition has been drafted.

Montana athletic director Jim O'Day told The Gazette on Monday afternoon that the possibility for television broadcasts was slim.

"Under the contract ESPN has with the NCAA, they control the football championship," O'Day said. "This year they opted to exercise their right to say, ‘We are not going to sell this off to a secondary market. We are going to control it with what we have to offer, and what we have to offer is our (ESPN3) Internet site.'

"It's not a very popular decision, especially here in Montana. We would love to have those games on TV. But unless somebody can get to ESPN and convince them to put it out on another format, I doubt very much it will be on TV anywhere."

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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