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McFeely blog: Bison football TV, radio contracts up for grabs

KVLY-TV and Bison 1660 will carry football games for spring season, new contract will begin with fall schedule

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Chris Klieman won four NCAA FCS titles at North Dakota State as head coach and was part of seven with the Bison. He compiled a 69-6 record at NDSU and 8-5 during his first season at Kansas State in 2019. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — North Dakota State's broadcast rights deals are up for grabs with discussions soon underway to determine who will carry Bison football games on television and radio for the next several years.

Josh Hartman, general manager of Learfield IMG's Bison Sports Properties that will handle negotiations for NDSU, said current rights-holders KVLY-TV and Bison 1660 will carry NDSU's scheduled spring games, postponed from the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the new contract will begin in the fall.

The deals could range anywhere from one to five years.

"Just depends on the structure of what's in the deal. Typically you don't want to be reviewing something like this every year," Hartman said.

Because NDSU signed with Learfield to manage some business aspects of its athletic department, the rights process will be slightly different. In the past NDSU athletic department officials were required to request bids from interested parties and then selected what they deemed to be the best offers. Hartman said there will be no requests for proposals because Learfield is a private company.

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"We'll talk with incumbents and any other entities that might be interested," he said.

That doesn't mean NDSU won't have a say in which outlets broadcast their games. Hartman said he'll discuss all options with Bison athletic director Matt Larsen before making a decision, which is expected to be made public during the spring season.

KVLY, owned by Atlanta-based Gray Media Inc., has held the TV rights since 2007. They were most recently re-upped in 2016, when KVLY got a four-year deal with a one-year option that was exercised. Bison 1660, a new station created by Radio FM Media, was granted the radio rights the same year.

KVLY and Bison 1660 want to retain the rights, but they'll have competition. In 2016, four TV outlets — KVLY, WDAY, KVRR and Midco Sports Network — made bids. Four radio groups also made proposals —Radio FM Media, Forum Communications Co. (which then owned and operated WDAY-AM), Midwest Communications (which owns top-rated KFGO-AM and all-sports 740 The Fan) and Flag Family Media.

WDAY-TV is owned by Forum Communications Co., which also owns The Forum and InForum. Flag Family Media recently entered into an operating agreement to run WDAY-AM.

WDAY and Midco are also interested in the TV rights and it's probable Midwest Communications and Flag Family Media would pursue the radio rights.

Hartman said money and the ability to carry games statewide were the two top factors for the television contract, while acknowledging many fans watch games on various streaming services.

"We want to make it as easy as possible for Bison fans to watch games. That's the main thing," Hartman said.

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That would seem to favor KVLY and WDAY, which are part of statewide networks. Midco is a Sioux Falls-based network available through cable, dish and streaming. Midco carries NDSU men's and women's basketball, as it does with other Dakotas-based Summit League teams.

Hartman praised the relationship NDSU has with Bison 1660 and Radio FM Media, but said "we'll talk to other folks."

NDSU has a unique revenue-sharing arrangement with Radio FM Media. In the 2016 deal, the athletic department agreed to pay the broadcaster $60,000 annually for an "air charge." In exchange, Radio FM Media was obligated to pay NDSU 30% percent of gross revenues from Bison-related ancillary programming. NDSU got all advertising revenue from the games, pre- and post-game shows and coaches' shows, according to a Forum story.

At the time, a Radio FM Media executive estimated NDSU would make $600,000 in the first three years of the contract.

While having the team-branding and revenue-sharing is somewhat rare in college athletics, especially at the Football Championship Subdivision level at which NDSU competes, Bison 1660 has not been successful.

Midwest Communications had the rights before they were given to Radio FM Media and Bison games were featured on KFGO, long the top-rated station in the market. The all-sports 740 The Fan was used for sports other than football and has the fifth-largest daytime signal in the country at 50,000 watts.

Midwest Communications is currently the Fargo affiliate for University of North Dakota athletics.

Readers can reach Mike McFeely at (701) 451-5655 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com

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