In late October, former Bradley Director of Athletics Michael Cross announced a deal in the works between the Missouri Valley Conference and ESPN.
Eight months later, that deal has finally connected the worldwide leader to campus, as the MVC announced a 10-year extension of the media rights agreement between the conference and ESPN on Thursday.
As part of this extension, a new, co-branded network named “The Valley on ESPN3” will launch next month and, as a result, ESPN3 will broadcast a minimum of 820 MVC games per year over the last six years of the agreement.
The deal affects Bradley as the current student production team, known as Braves Vision, will team up with the Peoria production company ScheffTech to immediately produce soccer and volleyball games for the upcoming fall season.
Bradley Director of Athletics Chris Reynolds said that he is excited for not only what “The Valley on ESPN3” will do for the MVC, but also for both Bradley University and Bradley Athletics.
“While ‘The Valley on ESPN3’ endeavor provides exposure of Bradley Athletics to nearly 100 million viewers through a wide variety of growing digital media platforms, the partnership with the worldwide leader in sports will provide great experiential learning opportunities for Bradley University students,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Bradley students will be trained by broadcast professionals in all aspects of the productions, including on-air talent, camera operations, direction and engineering, giving them real-world experience to go along with their academic preparation.”
Doug Elgin, commissioner of the MVC, said the excitement from the deal stems from the opportunity to present the MVC on a worldwide stage.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of excitement on campuses,” Elgin said. “We’re going to tell stories that couldn’t be told on linear networks. We’re going to have opportunities to talk about individuals on campus, faculty members, students that are achieving in the classroom. I just think there’s going to be a whole new wave of opportunity to market and sell our schools.”
Elgin also said this new deal with ESPN signals a “new era” for the MVC.
“‘The Valley on ESPN3’ serves to recognize that our conference continues to be committed to remaining competitive in a fast-changing NCAA Division I landscape,” Elgin said in his opening statement during a teleconference Thursday. “This exponential increase in exposure will bring significant emphasis to men’s and women’s basketball and every conference-sponsored sport.”
Elgin also noted that a key aspect of this deal is the amount of involvements that students will have when it comes to the production of these live athletics events, and MVC Associate Commissioner Jack Watkins touched on the different student responsibilities.
“[Student involvement] can be from either running cameras to directing or producing,” Watkins said. “The long-term is to have as many students engaged and involved.”
Each school of the 10 MVC institutions will work together with ESPN to develop an in-house production which will give each individual sport national coverage.
The plan for this fall is for the court sports, such as volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball, to be televised in the early years of the agreement. However, Elgin said that schools can produce as many outdoor sports productions as they can handle, with the peak at over 800 televised games per year in the final years of the agreement.
Ilan Ben-Hanan, Vice President of College Sports Programming at ESPN, pointed out that the deal with the MVC is the first of its kind among college sports.
“We have had some experience working with some individual schools in doing these kind of what we call ‘school production deals’,” Ben-Hanan said. “We’ve had some conversations with some conferences that have kind of opened the door for the opportunity to do this.”
Watkins said the network will be different for each school, as each will need different equipment or technology to stream their games on ESPN3.
In addition to “The Valley on ESPN3,” ESPN also retains the rights to the MVC Men’s basketball tournament semifinal and championship games and the women’s basketball championship game. The agreement will also continue to broadcast multiple men’s basketball and Olympic sports games over ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNNEWS each year of the extension.