Rebels, fans would suffer if TV deal isn’t reached

UNLV’s basketball team has its annual Scarlet/Gray Showcase tonight, and it will include a dunk contest and alumni game and intrasquad scrimmage. It is free to the public, and, this being just a few days into practice, isn’t an event that would be televised.

When things begin for real less than a month from now, however, fans need to hope that last part isn’t an issue.

I have had this recurring Mtn. Network nightmare, awaking in a heavy sweat with visions of Marty Fletcher screaming, “Winky-Dinky-Doo!” while, for some Godforsaken reason, Todd Christensen continues to analyze basketball games.

But it’s gone now, The Mtn., shut down for good May 31. May it rest in peace.

“As bad as it was in some parts, one thing The Mtn. did was provide a lot of games and content,” UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood said. “Whether some of the programming was good or not, people could still watch their teams.

“This is a critical year for our basketball program. We have the prospects of having a great team. Our goal is to get as many of our games on television.”

If the Rebels opened their season tonight, that wouldn’t happen for local folks flipping channels.

The Mountain West Conference struck a deal with Time Warner Cable SportsNet to be the home for UNLV, San Diego State and Fresno State football and basketball games this season. It is part of a regional network package that includes, among others, the Los Angeles Lakers.

The production part is handled.

The distribution part isn’t.

That’s where we are now, Time Warner negotiating with providers such as Cox and DirecTV and Dish, with those searching for the best deal before agreeing to show games.

This is how crazy things can get when cable giants meet in a room: Jeannie Buss is the Lakers’ executive vice president for business operations. Her father owns the team.

Buss is a DirecTV customer, meaning she can’t sit in her living room and watch the Lakers on TV right now.

But her team is also the reason UNLV fans shouldn’t get overly nervous about missing many games being shown by Time Warner this season.

Not yet, anyway.

“It is huge – and I mean bigger than big – that the Lakers are involved with this,” Livengood said. “There are a lot of Lakers fans in Las Vegas, and it helps that this is the team driving the train for the rest of us. The Lakers are a pretty big engine.

“It’s not worry time yet, not in the sense that we’ve reached critical stages. A deal might not get done this week or next week, but I’m extremely confident our basketball games with (Time Warner) will be on. You can’t be 100 percent sure until the switch comes on, but I feel it will happen sooner than later. When you’re talking about how much it costs to distribute these games and what the rate package will be for the customer, things like that take time to sort out.”

It has been reported that Time Warner is asking providers to pay $3.95 per subscriber each month for the company’s SportsNet and Deportes channels, among the highest ever charged for a regional sports network.

Translation: Time Warner is playing hard ball, providers are holding out for a better price and fans are left in the dark.

Eleven Rebels games are scheduled to be televised by Time Warner, with the others being shown on CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network or one of the ESPN channels.

Livengood will approach this season as a bridge to the future – what comes directly after The Mtn. as compared to what follows 2012-13 – but knows the importance of getting a ranked UNLV team seen as much as possible.

He is working on TV contracts to come, ones that most likely will include more games on the ESPN family of networks. That’s never a bad thing for exposure and recruiting and validity.

Officials for cable providers don’t answer questions when negotiating such deals, and it would be somewhat irresponsible of me (wink, wink) to suggest that UNLV fans make those at Cox and DirecTV and Dish and other providers aware of how important it is to get a deal done, be it through telephone calls or emails or anything short of storming buildings.

But the first UNLV game scheduled to be shown on Time Warner is against visiting UC Irvine on Nov. 28.

It’s not today, but it’s also not forever from now.

“We’re more than a month out from that,” Livengood said. “We all want it done right now, and my objective is to get the games on. It needs to get done. Everyone knows how serious it is. They all understand how big UNLV basketball is to the people in Las Vegas.”

Winky-Dinky-Doo big.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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