It’s TV time for everyone else at CSN

Business First – May 11, 2007

Columbus native Steve Marriott is leading an investment group that’s betting millions on an all-sports format.

View Larger Broadcaster Steve Marriott got the answer he was looking for three years ago, when he read the findings of a research report on the market for televised sports.

Marriott had hired the public opinion researcher Saperstein Associates Inc. to test his idea of turning a low-power television station in Bucyrus into an all-local-sports network. What jumped out to him was the finding that two-thirds of those surveyed said they’d likely watch a network devoted to Central Ohio sports programming.

“I thought it was a natural fit from the beginning,” Marriott said, “but the research was overwhelming. I have never seen a format with that sort of demand in a local area.”

So Marriott decided to take the plunge, leading an investment group that’s made a multimillion-dollar commitment to launch the Columbus Sports Network.

The station went on the air March 24 with a lineup of games featuring Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, Arena Football League’s Columbus Destroyers, the Clippers minor league baseball club, Ohio State University spring sports teams, small colleges such as Capital University and Otterbein College, and Central Ohio high schools.

Advertiser support
The big question for Marriott and his backers is how well an all-local-sports format will fly with viewers and advertisers. That’s a tough one to answer, say TV and sports industry experts, because the format is unusual for a local over-the-air station.

CSN President John Ertmann said a combination of market factors makes Columbus an ideal community for an all-local-sports network. First, the city has a highly visible and influential university – Ohio State – with numerous sports teams. Other key attributes, he said, include several major professional league teams, rabid high school sports fans and small colleges with loyal fan followings.

Marriott and Ertmann said they’ve received nothing but support from viewers for the mix of games they’re airing.

In addition, some of CSN’s broadcast partners told Business First they’ve been impressed by the production quality of the telecasts. They also said CSN’s inclusion on the analog or digital lineups of Central Ohio’s three largest cable TV providers – Time Warner Cable, Insight Communications and Wide Open West – is critical to the station’s credibility.

Now CSN needs to get it done on the advertising front, said Ertmann, a former executive with the New York Yankees, NBC Sports and Major League Soccer.