Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Betting boards are giving UNLV a much better chance this week at UNR after the Rebels' 80-8 victory against Idaho State, and Sun sports editor Ray Brewer tells reporters Case Keefer and Taylor Bern that UNLV coach Tony Sanchez will be riding the Fremont Cannon back to Vegas.
UNLV Athletics Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy put in a call to Mountain West Deputy Commissioner Bret Gilliland to see if there was anything that someone, anyone, could do to put this weekend’s Battle for the Fremont Cannon on an actual television station. The answer from the league and Campus Insiders won’t surprise you.
“We asked, they said no,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “… I’m sure everybody in the state of Nevada is disappointed.”
UNLV and UNR will play at 4:05 p.m. Saturday in the 41st meeting between the in-state rivals. Mackay Stadium will likely be a sellout and anyone interested in either side will have eyes on what’s unquestionably the biggest annual game for both teams. And those eyes will be fixed to a computer screen as the game is streaming on the Mountain West Network with production crews and talent from Campus Insiders.
The good news is this is a better situation than last week’s stream at Sam Boyd Stadium, which was run by UNLV and went blank for a good chunk of the second half because of a computer malfunction. And it’s better than 2006 and 2008, the two times in the last decade that there’s been no visual coverage of the game.
But that’s an awfully glass-half-full sell to fans who justifiably don’t understand how a game that will have more local interest than an average league meeting no matter how good the teams are can be relegated to streaming, especially in a year when either side seems capable of winning.
“I think it will probably be the only game in the Mountain West that’s sold out this weekend,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “(No TV) is unfortunate.”
The Mountain West has broadcast contracts with ESPN, CBS Sports, Campus Insiders and Root Sports, the latter of which is available locally only on DirecTV. The games that aren’t selected for TV or ESPN3 are then mostly divvied up between games that will stream on the Mountain West Network and games that will stream on the Mountain West Network powered by Campus Insiders.
The difference is that when CI is involved they handle the production, sometimes with additional help from the institution, and when it’s strictly a MWN game, like last week’s historic 80-8 victory against Idaho State, it’s on the home team to put it all together. That means a MWN/CI game is basically on the same level as an ESPN3 stream — at least it’s similar when the analysts are actually at the game and not in Bristol, Conn. — while a MWN game is more prone to problems, as fans saw, or more accurately couldn’t see, last week.
There are eight league games this weekend and three of them — UNLV at UNR, Wyoming at Appalachian State (ESPN3) and Colorado State at Utah State (ESPN3) — will be available only online. However, ESPN3 games can be easily streamed on a TV through devices like Roku and Apple TV, while Campus Insiders has a Roku app that doesn’t carry live games. The Livestream app is expected carry UNLV-UNR's game on Roku and Chromecast but not Apple TV.
It all adds up to a lot of frustration for a program that is still a few weeks away from playing its first, and so far only, game that will come with a bonus from the Mountain West’s TV payout structure. UNLV will get $300,000 for playing on Friday, Oct. 16, at Fresno State and unless the Halloween game against Boise State is picked up by ESPN or ESPN2, that will be all that the Rebels bring in over the three years the model has been in place.
By comparison, over the same stretch Boise State will bring in at least $4.3 million, and UNR will bring in at least $900,000.
“It’s not just one answer on how we get on TV,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “By hiring Tony Sanchez, that sparked this interest in Las Vegas that’s unprecedented in football. That’s the good side. The next step is to think we’ll get TV games just by virtue of our team getting better.”
That’s the “easiest” solution. Kunzer-Murphy has also been making the case since taking the job for a change to the distribution model so it would benefit more teams even if they were not picked for TV games.
Those are long-term plans, though. This week there’s nothing the Rebels can do except tell you to go to unlvrebels.com, where all day Saturday there will be a splash page with the embedded video that makes it as easy as possible to find the stream.
“Just making sure people can figure out how to get it turned on,” Kunzer-Murphy said.