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McFeely: UND wants what NDSU has for television exposure, and more

School distributes aggressive request for proposal that calls for expansion of how many Fighting Hawks sports are televised

PHOTO: UND hockey
Fighting Hawks hockey players celebrate a UND goal at Ralph Engelstad Arena. UND's hockey program would be the biggest prize for the winning bidder for the school's athletics TV contract.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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FARGO — The University of North Dakota wants its athletic teams to get all of the television coverage North Dakota State receives, plus more.

In an aggressive request for proposal distributed last week, UND wants all of its conference football games — home and away — televised by its broadcast partner, plus all home games in men's and women's basketball, volleyball, soccer and softball.

That's in addition to every hockey home game.

UND also wants pregame and postgame shows, live hour-long recruiting signing day programs and series highlighting its hockey and football programs to be produced by its television partner.

The university also wants its broadcast partners to essentially serve as marketing, promotion and public relations arms of UND.

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"The University of North Dakota is seeking partners that will provide quality programming and will promote aggressively that programming across an entire portfolio of assets," the request for proposal (RFP) says. "It is important that there is an effort from media partners to promote UND not only during the season, but also throughout the calendar year."

The RFPs for UND's televison and radio rights were posted last week on the state's procurement website . The school expects to award the rights by early summer.

Midco Sports of Sioux Falls, S.D., has held the TV rights for UND sports since 2012. The last time the rights were available, in 2017, UND awarded Midco a five-year contract without bids because there were no other interested parties.

But Fargo-based Forum Communications, owner of WDAY-TV and The Forum, is known to be interested this time. Industry sources say Gray Television's KVLY-TV might be interested in carrying UND football games if the school was willing to split up the rights package. KVLY carried North Dakota State football for 12 years before Forum Communications won the Bison rights in 2021, so the station could use UND to fill that hole.

KVLY upped NDSU's football broadcasts about a decade ago, carrying the games on a statewide network that blanketed North Dakota, and later going on the road to broadcast most of the Bison's away games.

When Forum Communications won the rights in 2021, it continued the football coverage while adding broadcasts of more home men's and women's basketball games and some other sports like volleyball, baseball, soccer and softball.

UND is clearly trying to match NDSU's TV coverage, and in some cases surpass it.

The RFP is, in the words of one industry source, "very specific, to say the least."

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At times, the RFP indicates UND is looking for a marketing and public-relations partner as much as somebody to carry its games on TV.

"The University of North Dakota expects consistent and frequent coverage of the Fighting Hawks throughout the entire calendar year," the RFP says. "The university is seeking a partner that will coordinate with the UND Communications and Athletics Communications staff on establishing and implementing a year-around plan ..."

The university wants its TV partner to act as a production company for its athletic department, using the TV station's employees, equipment, time and money to produce content that will be owned by the university.

In calling for production of "on-demand content" like the "Day by Day" series about UND football or "Through These Doors" about UND hockey, the RFP calls for its TV partner to produce 15-20 episodes per academic year while "UND will be the copyright holder for these episodes and all the episodes will be posted to UND's YouTube channel and social media accounts."

Guaranteed money, of course, will be an important aspect of the bids, but it appears to take a backseat to how much content the broadcast partner can produce, and how it will be distributed.

"We encourage bidders to create proposals that will serve our existing fan base and reach new fans," the RFP says. "Ultimately, we are seeking a true partnership that will provide our University with quality and innovative media assets that will differentiate UND among its peers."

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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