The Big Loser of the Mountain West’s TruTV Deal

The Mountain West continues its ascent to becoming the preeminent Group of Five Conference with its TruTV deal. Still one party may be unhappy with this development.

Air Force is one of multiple programs that aired games on RSNs last year.
Source: Air Force Athletics

The Mountain West's big offseason continued with the shocking announcement of a 14-game slate broadcast by TruTV and streamed on Max. This deal increases the league's media footprint considerably. TruTV is available in around 68 million homes in the United States, not far behind the 72 million homes that carry ESPN and ESPN2. The Mountain West gains a significant win by getting third-tier games on a prevalent basic cable channel.

While the Mountain West and TruTV win in the new deal, there is an overlooked loser. The slow decay of regional sports networks (RSN) worsens with the Mountain West/TruTV deal. The Mountain West was one of the few Division 1 conferences, FCS or FBS, that stayed true to RSNs and local over-the-air stations (e.g., ABC, Fox, CBS, The CW).

The Mountain West allowed local stations and RSNs to air games that neither CBS nor Fox's family of networks wanted to broadcast. Consequently, local stations and RSNs aired 16 Mountain West-controlled games. The Mountain West games gave these broadcasters much-needed inventory during the Fall.

However, the TruTV deal has taken many games that RSNs and local stations would broadcast. Not counting Hawaii's Spectrum Sports broadcasts covered by a separate TV deal, the Mountain West has only seven games available for local stations and RSNs to broadcast.

Of all these RSNs, Altitude Sports, the television home of the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, received the most significant blow.

All signs point to Air Force not renewing its two-year deal with Altitude. Altitude has aired one Falcons home game per year for the last two seasons. This year, the RSN will not air any Air Force home games. The writing was on the wall when CBS Sports Network picked up Air Force’s home opener against Merrimack. Altitude broadcasted the Falcons' two FCS home games the past two seasons as part of its agreement with the Academy.

Judging by the list of games in Matt Sarzyniak's tweet, the other RSNs and local networks look like they will get one game apiece, including Fresno's Spanish language station, Unimas 61, which aired the first Spanish language-exclusive broadcast in FBS history last season when it aired Eastern Washington @ Fresno State.

The decline of RSNs has been a slow bleeding-out process throughout the sports world. The Mountain West's TruTV deal only accelerates this bleeding and leaves affected RSNs and local stations scrambling for live sports content.