Why the Southland Conference Must Follow the Arena Football League’s Lead

Numerous local stations in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama will carry Arena Football. The Southland must partner with these local stations.

Numerous local stations in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama will carry Arena Football. The Southland must partner with these local stations.
Source: Jalien Lynch

The USFL and XFL may have ended their wars with the debut of the UFL, but there is still strife on the indoor and arena circuit. The Arena Football League and the Indoor Football League both attempt to increase their reach. Most recently, the Arena Football League partnered with Gray Television, owner of over 100 stations spread across 36% of the United States, to televise games from select teams.

Eight Arena Football League teams, half the league, agreed to terms with local Gray Television-owned stations. No team will have a stronger local television presence than the Louisiana VooDoo, who will have their games on a whopping 11 stations spread across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The teams with the second-most affiliated stations have three.

The commitment of Louisana Gray Television-owned stations presents an opportunity for the Southland Conference. The Southland Conference has four schools in the Pelican State: McNeese State, Nicholls, Northwestern State, and Southeastern Louisiana. ESPN+ broadcasts all Southland Conference football games, yet the conference lacks a specific local TV partner.

The lack of a local over-the-air television partner puts the Southland behind the premier leagues of the FCS. The Big Sky airs several games on Scripps-owned stations in the league’s footprint while also streaming them on ESPN+. The Southern Conference has a “Game of the Week” on various Nexstar-owned over-the-air stations while streaming them on ESPN+. These agreements place local fans at the forefront by preventing them from paying ESPN+‘s fees. There is no excuse for the Southland to refuse to take advantage of Louisiana Gray Television-owned stations’ willingness to air live sports. Leveraging local stations in Louisiana is even more crucial after Cox Sports Television, a longtime regional TV partner of the Southland Conference, shut down in late 2021.

The production quality of these games will likely improve if Gray Television is involved. Gray Television owns Raycom Sports, which produces the ACC on The CW. The Southland’s production would be head and shoulders over most of the rest of the FCS should they partner with Gray Television.

While the Southland will never decrease SEC viewership, they can cut into the Sun Belt and Conference USA’s viewership by simply being a more accessible and cost-effective viewing alternative for fans in Louisiana. Conference USA and the Sun Belt require either a cable/satellite/over-the-top TV or streaming subscription to watch the bulk of their games. A local TV deal with Gray Television stations in Louisana, Mississippi, and Alabama places the Southland in more homes in the league’s footprint without any financial barriers to entry.

Quite frankly, a deal with local networks will make the Southland put its money where its mouth is. Southland Conference commissioner Chris Grant proudly championed his conference’s regionality by proclaiming it a “gas tank league” in Texas-Rio Grande Valley’s introductory press conference. Now is the time to make the league’s games more accessible not only for traveling fanbases but for television viewers. Gray Television-owned stations in Louisiana want to air local sports. The Southland must continue the momentum and follow the Arena Football League’s lead in partnering with these stations.

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