Leigh Steinberg is an avid watcher of college football, a California alumnus, and briefly an agent for USC Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart before the 2006 NFL draft.
And Steinberg’s not quite sure where he should go to watch Saturday’s games featuring third-ranked Texas Christian against San Diego State and top-ranked Oregon against his Bears.
Those games are on Versus, not necessarily the go-to destination for college football fans on a Saturday afternoon.
FOR THE RECORD: Versus sports TV network: An article in Friday’s Sports section about the Versus network airing two of the top college football games quoted Javan Hedlund, associate commissioner of the Mountain West Conference, as saying, “The way things are right now, if you’re not on the ESPN family of networks, you’re not on television.” In context, Hedlund talked about how that was only the perception of some people, not the reality, adding in a statement not used in the article, “You have to educate people that games aren’t just on ESPN.”
“The reality is that this ought to be billed as the most intriguing doubleheader of the year,” Steinberg said. “These games ought to be showcase moments for those programs. No disrespect to Versus, but it’s Versus. Honestly, if I’m Oregon right now, I’m not happy at all.”
Ratings so far this season on Versus’ college football games have averaged about 369,000 per game, down a bit from last year but up 19% in the key demographic of 25- to 54-year-old male viewers.
Oregon ended up on Versus after ABC, which had first choice of Pacific 10 Conference games for its prime viewing slot of 5 p.m., chose USC at Arizona.
But that’s the way it goes. You’ve got to search out what you want to see. Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports, says Oregon and TCU should be happy about Versus.
“Ten years ago, these games wouldn’t be on any form of national television,” Pilson said.
Javan Hedlund, associate commissioner of the Mountain West Conference, said he understands that the typical college football fan might not be inclined to scan Versus on Saturday.
“The way things are right now,” Hedlund said, “if you’re not on the ESPN family of networks, you’re not on television.”
Versus has a sublicense with the Pac-10 and is a major carrier for the Mountain West.
In May, ESPN/ABC decided to put a Pac-10 game in the 5 p.m. window for Nov. 13. In June, according to Pac-10 spokesman Kirk Reynolds, “we were informed by Fox Sports Net [a conference television partner] that Versus would be televising a Pac-10 game Nov. 13 at 4:30 and would select the game 12 days in advance.”
It didn’t take long for Versus to pick Oregon.
“We lock down weeks and windows in advance,” said Marc Fein, Versus’ executive vice president for programming. “Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. This time we won.”
Versus’ highest-rated college football telecast was Oregon against Oregon State in 2008. That game drew 1.6 million viewers. This year’s highest-ranked Versus game was the season opener Sept. 2, Pittsburgh against Utah, with 877,000 viewers.
Steinberg did have a suggestion that Versus could use for marketing purposes.
“If you care about college football and want to see the best, Versus is the place to be,” Steinberg said. “Now I need to find out where Versus is.”
That last bit would not be part of the marketing campaign.