KU fans without Metro Sports seeing red, not blue

Terri Springer is a pretty typical KU fan from Overland Park. She goes to football games at Memorial Stadium. She has season tickets at Allen Fieldhouse. She donates money to the Williams Education Fund, the athletic department’s fund-raising arm.

But on Saturday night, when the Kansas football team opens it season against South Dakota, Springer won’t be able to turn on her television set and watch her Jayhawks. While the game will be broadcast live on Metro Sports, available to Time Warner and Comcast subscribers in the area, Springer will be shut out. Her household subscribes to SureWest, and that means a night with no Kansas football. Even worse, Springer says, it could means six nights with no KU basketball this fall and winter.

Springer’s situation highlights a contentious issue surrounding the newly configured Jayhawk Network, which will broadcast its first football game Saturday. On one hand, KU’s new television partnership with Time Warner and Metro Sports will provide unprecedented exposure and television coverage for the school’s athletic programs. There will be pregame shows, postgame shows and hundreds of hours of additional “shoulder” programming. But in Kansas City, the exposure could come at a cost.

If you’re a KU fan in the Kansas City area who doesn’t subscribe to Time Warner or Comcast, you won’t be getting Saturday’s season opener or six nonconference basketball games this upcoming season.

“The greatest concentration of KU fans in the United States is in Kansas City,” Springer said. “Wait until the season starts, and it dawns on them.”

As a member of the Big 12, Kansas can negotiate its own deals for its “third-tier” television rights — otherwise known as the games that don’t fall under the Big 12 television contracts. And as KU rolled out details of its television partnerships over the past months, there were plenty of things for KU fans to like. As part of its deal with Time Warner, Metro Sports will carry 50 KU events during the next school year, including two football games and six nonconference basketball games. Those broadcasts will also be available on Comcast in Kansas City, WOW! in Lawrence, WIBW-TV in Topeka and throughout the state of Kansas on “Kansas 22,” which is available on Cox Communications, Sumner Communications and Cunningham Telephone.

In addition, KU partnered with ESPN3, the cable giant’s digital streaming service. All 50 Jayhawk TV events on Metro Sports will also be available nationally on ESPN3, with an additional 20 events being exclusive to the streaming service. (The ESPN3 broadcasts will be blacked out in the Kansas City and Kansas markets.)

For out-of-state fans in, say, Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, it could be a boon. You want to watch every game of super freshman Andrew Wiggins? Just make sure you have a fast internet connection.

But for fans in the Kansas City area that subscribe to SureWest, AT&T U-verse, Google Fiber or a satellite provider, it leaves major questions.

“It’s always a concern,” KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger told The Star. “But I really think people will find their way to the games, and we’ll find our way to them. There’s still a lot of things behind the scenes that need to be worked out. And I think, at the end of the day, more and more people will see it than maybe think they would.”

On Wednesday, a Time Warner official told The Star that there are currently no other agreements in place to carry the Jayhawk Network on other providers in Kansas City.

For KU, though, the positives of partnering with Time Warner outweigh the negatives. After a school year in which the KU women’s basketball and volleyball programs reached the NCAA postseason — and the women’s track team won an NCAA title — those nonrevenue programs will see an unparalleled spike in television exposure. Games will be broadcast on Metro Sports and live across the country on ESPN3 — bolstering KU’s national brand and serving as a major carrot for coaches in recruiting.

“I think it’s positive for the athletic program as a whole,” KU associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said. “And if it’s good for the athletics program as a whole, I think it’s good for fans of Kansas athletics.”

It’s also worth considering that a decade ago, only a handful of KU nonconference football games were televised. And last week, Missouri opened its football season on pay-per-view. But for some KU fans, the real concern comes in a few months, when Bill Self and Wiggins begin the basketball season.

“It’s kind of a ritual,” said Sandy Sherman, a KU fan in Overland Park who subscribes to SureWest. “We work out our days and things to when KU plays.”

Marchiony cautions that it’s just a “small number” of basketball games that will be affected. And marquee games will be in their usual spot on CBS or the ESPN networks. But for Springer, Sherman and most KU fans, missing any KU basketball game is a serious problem.

“You are shutting down part of a town that is University of Kansas first,” Springer said. “Isn’t this a little short-sighted?”