Cable TV Steps Out, So Cornell Alum Steps In to Air Games
BOSTON — VIEWERS who turn on their TV sets to see the Big Red of Cornell University battle their Ivy League rivals may tune in to more than just tackles and touchdowns.During commercial breaks they may see profiles of the school's student-athletes or Nobel Prize-winning professors, learn how to choose a college and prepare for a college interview, or listen to Cornell's president speak on current education issues. "We want to get beyond just the football game," says Roger Weiss, an alumnus of Cornell and the originator of the university's new venture. The cable network ESPN's decision last year not to renew its three-year contract to broadcast Ivy League football meant an end to national coverage of the games. But Mr. Weiss suggested an alternative: He would underwrite the cost of producing seven Cornell games for a sports channel. Weiss then contacted a friend at Trans World International, a sports-program packager. TWI agreed to represent the university and brought the deal to SportsChannel America, which is broadcasting the games on Saturday afternoons this fall (the first one was Sept. 21; the second will air Oct. 19). TWI is trying to sell advertising time to reduce the six-figure sum Weiss has agreed to pay. A number of prominent advertisers have signed on, including Norelco, GTE, and USAir. The university will use about eight minutes of the 27 minutes of commercial time available for its own messages. "To our knowledge, we're the only university that's been able to cut its own deal [to such an extent]," says Michael Veley, associate athletic director for communications. "By buying the three-hour block of time, we're able to control the entire content of that three hours." The arrangement enables the school to showcase its athletic and academic programs during its 125th anniversary. Mr. Veley says the broadcasts have drawn a favorable response from alumni and students. Other colleges have also taken notice: The University of Notre Dame called Cornell asking to see a tape of the first game. Notre Dame has a $38 million contract with NBC Sports in exchange for the network's rights to broadcast its games, but the school is allowed just 30 seconds to show institutional-type messages.