GALLAGHER: TV flap clouds state title picture

November 18, 2016

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa | If you’re a Northwest Iowa resident and a fan of Iowa high school football -- and have cable television -- you’ll have a hard time tuning into the state championship contests this week.

There isn’t a Northwest Iowa cable provider that offers Chicago SportsNet Chicago, television home for Iowa boys’ state tournaments in football, wrestling and basketball.

Check the map that shows where you can watch these contests through your cable television provider; the closest to Sioux City are situated near Fort Dodge and Omaha.

What’s more? Cable television subscribers in Northwest Iowa can’t live-stream the action on their computers or iPads. You must be a cable or satellite subscriber, with Comcast SportsNet (CSN) in your package, in order to live-stream these events, all produced by the Iowa High School Sports Network, which inked the deal last summer with Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

The phones were busy on Wednesday at Premier Communications in Sioux Center, Iowa, cable provider for residents in Hull, Iowa, a Sioux County community of 2,244 residents that has two teams playing state championship football games today (Friday) at the UNI-Dome: Western Christian in Class 1A, Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley in Class 2A.

Premier pros Ryan Boone and Scott TeStroete have been readying for this for weeks, if not months. They knew a day of TV reckoning was coming. The calls from frustrated viewers began last week when fans couldn’t find semifinals on the television. Calls, emails and social media posts continued this week.

“It was a tough decision to make,” said Boone, the firm’s regulatory manager who explained Premier’s decision to forego adding Comcast SportsNet Chicago to its lineup of networks this year. “A $1-million price tag over three years was too tough for us to pass on to our customers.”

“We’d have to do a rate increase for just this one channel,” added TeStroete, Premiere’s marketing and sales manager.

In the end, adding a channel for lots of Chicago-area sports, plus boys’ state tournament games, wasn’t enough to justify the cost. That area of Northwest Iowa, they indicated, is more apt to follow Minnesota’s professional teams, thus Fox Sports North is their network of choice.

The prep picture is muddied when one considers how fans watched Western Christian’s volleyball team win a state title one week ago in a match broadcast by Iowa Public Television. The Western Christian football team, however, won’t have its game on statewide TV. Rather, it will be shown on a network that boasts reaching 4.3 million households in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, predominantly eastern Iowa.

There is a caveat: Residents with DirecTV (Channel 665) or Dish Network (Channel 429) do have Comcast SportsNet Chicago and may watch the title contests.

The TV agreement was announced in July by Brett Nanninga, associate executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association. “On behalf of the IHSAA and our customer base throughout the state of Iowa and across the nation, I’d like to thank Comcast SportsNet for their on-air and digital distribution of the IHSAA High School State Championship Events,” Nanninga said. “The comprehensive (digital HD) coverage that Comcast SportsNet offers to its affiliates is second to none in the high school market. The IHSAA is extremely proud of the service/coverage that Comcast SportsNet offers the families and friends of Iowa high school student-athletes.”

Boone and TeStroete attempted to offer another option, asking if Premier Communications could live-stream the state athletic contests while paying a fee to Comcast SportsNet Chicago and the Iowa High School Sports Network during those weeks.

“We thought it might be a unique compromise,” Boone said. “And we said we’d promote the heck out of their network.”

The proposal went nowhere. “They’ve not even recognized that as an option,” Boone said.

And so the state title games march on with Northwest Iowa teams, and not much of a Northwest Iowa TV audience.