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With Deal, CSTV Scales a Mountain

College Sports Television achieved a costly milestone last week, wresting college-sports rights for the Mountain West Conference away from ESPN.

The seven-year, $82 million agreement, starting in 2006, includes exclusive rights to college basketball and football games, as well as other events. It’s CSTV’s first deal with a major Division I conference — with such schools as Brigham Young University, Colorado State University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas — to include the two marquee sports. CSTV’s extensive rights in the agreement cover television; national over-the-air and satellite-radio; video-on-demand; online and broadband outlets.

CSTV president Brian Bedol, whose year-old network is in 8 million homes, declared: “We will offer MWC sports fans more games, from more sports, than ever before.’’

The startup is paying more than ESPN pays under its existing contract (seven years and $48 million). The conference also gets more windows than the guaranteed nine football and 12 basketball games it received from ESPN.

MWC commissioner Craig Thompson expressed discontent with the limited exposure ESPN provided for conference games, and league board of directors president Cecil Samuelson said the MWC wasn’t happy with the midnight time slot ESPN gave its basketball games during Big Monday telecasts, as well as an inconsistent schedule for its football games.

ESPN is the subject of a Department of Justice inquiry about the use and distribution of college games.

ESPN said it “didn’t agree on the value of the product” and chose not to renew with the MWC. “Given our overall inventory of college football and college basketball, we chose to decline the offer,” a spokesman said. “Because it’s a competitive environment, they pursued a different home and we wish them well.”

It’s unclear whether or not ESPN wanted all the ancillary rights CSTV secured, but such all-encompassing deals are what ESPN needs from sports rights-holders, ESPN president George Bodenheimer said last week.

While sports leagues want to keep such broadband, VOD, HDTV and library product out of live-game packages, Bodenheimer said ESPN needs such rights to continue to expand revenue — particularly in light of lower license-fee increases in recently concluded ESPN cable deals.

“That strategy to withhold ancillary rights may be a perfectly acceptable strategy in dealing with other networks, but it’s not a particular good strategy to approach with us,” Bodenheimer said during a conference call last week to tout the network’s 25th anniversary.