More football fans may be adjusting their television sets this fall.
In a deal that Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton said “solidifies our position as a major player in Division I football in the western United States,” the conference has signed a five-year contract with DirecTV Sports Networks and its Root Sports networks.
That will include more exposure for Eastern Washington University and its eye-catching red field, which will soon be seen by up to 8.7 million viewers in 18 states.
Under the agreement announced Tuesday afternoon, DirecTV will produce and televise up to 18 Big Sky football games each season, including several doubleheaders.
“This is part of the natural evolution in this conference in our media relations, a recognition that the conference is becoming a major player,” Fullerton said in a news conference at conference headquarters in Ogden, Utah.
DirecTV may also broadcast up to 12 regular-season basketball games as well as the conference tournament quarterfinal and semifinal games.
The deal does not include nonconference games in either sport.
Fullerton said it was a natural move, coinciding with the end of its existing television deals and the expansion of the conference to 13 schools.
On July 1, Southern Utah University and the University of North Dakota are scheduled to join as full members; Cal Poly and UC Davis will be football-only affiliates.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but Fullerton said “I feel confident in saying that this it will be a significant help for the schools.”
He added that alone among Football Championship Subdivision conferences, the Big Sky doesn’t underwrite television production, and that rights fees are returned to the schools.
Fullerton said that the financial return will be greater under the new contract, but did not reveal details.
EWU Athletic Director Bill Chaves was optimistic about the deal.
“Through the EWU lens, this is far better for us,” Chaves, noting that under the expiring contract, the Altitude network “did not enter the state of Washington, so this is something we are excited about.”
Work will begin immediately on the television schedule. By March 15, DirecTV will identify which Big Sky Conference football games it will show. Single- and doubleheader broadcasts will begin at 12:30 p.m. Pacific time, though the network said it would work with individual schools to avoid conflict with homecoming and other events.
After the DirecTV schedule is set, the conference would negotiate with local media, including those in Spokane, for broadcast rights for the remaining games.
For EWU road games, media in the host city would hold the rights; at that point, media in Spokane could arrange with them for broadcast rights in Eastern Washington.
No timetable was given for the scheduling of basketball games.