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MEN'S HOCKEY: BSU playoff games won't be on Lakeland

BEMIDJI—Bemidji State men's hockey fans looking forward to any potential home Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff games won't have the option of tuning in on TV.

Lakeland Public Television announced this week they would not be airing any games of BSU's potential playoff run this season, saying it was BSU's decision.

Bill SanfordLakeland CEO Bill Sanford said he understood the position BSU is in.

"I'm an alum from BSU, I enjoy watching the Beavers play and I really want to see them be successful, and if this is what Tracy (BSU Athletic Director Tracy Dill) feels like they needed to do to be successful, I support what they're doing," Sanford said. "But it is a little disappointing."

Dill cited attendance and revenue concerns as reasons for the playoff broadcast decision.

"We appreciate everything Lakeland does for BSU," Dill said. "The broadcast is really good. The difference for us is, for first-round games in the WCHA, if we are in a position where we host, you have to guarantee the league $25,000 for the first round. Semifinals is the same and I think the championship is $15,000 or something. So we have to be able to sell tickets."

Tracy DillThrough 11 home games this season the Beavers have an average attendance of 2,662; the Sanford Center seats 4,373. The highest attended game this year was Dec. 17 against Minnesota Duluth (3,498). The only other home game to surpass the 3,000 mark was Nov. 26 against Princeton (3,172).

The Beavers (15-8-3 overall, 15-3-2 WCHA) are in first place in the conference and have already clinched a playoff berth. With eight regular-season conference games left, they're also closing in on clinching home ice for the first round—which could come as early as this weekend, depending on results.

With the league's new playoff format, the Beavers have the possibility to host all three rounds of the postseason, should they make it that far. The first-round (quarterfinals) and the semifinals will be best-of-three series, while the championship game is a single, winner-take-all game.

Dill said all first-round games are included in BSU's season-ticket plan, but anything beyond that is not.

According to the WCHA league office, that single-game championship round may end up being aired on local or regional TV, but the league hasn't yet solidified a deal.

There will also be an option, according to Dill, to buy a WCHA.tv streaming package to watch every game like there is for the regular-season, although those games will not be procuded by Lakeland.

Lakeland has been broadcasting Beaver men's home games since the 2010-11 season. Games are available throughout Minnesota, as well as parts of North Dakota and Wisconsin, due to agreements Lakeland has with other public TV stations.

"I know on our Facebook page, we've gotten some folks that have reached out to us, especially folks that live some distance away and their only option was to watch the games," Sanford said, noting that the potential audience for BSU hockey games is 5 million viewers. "My response to that is, I get what (BSU) is doing and I understand it. They're in a tough spot. They've had declining revenues and I know running that program is really a stretch for a school the size of BSU.... Their expenses are super-high and they need money to make it work. I think this was an attempt to plug the hole."

BSU has six home games remaining before the playoffs begin March 3—all six will be airing on Lakeland. Both of BSU's games against Ferris State this weekend will be on TV.

As for 2017-18 and beyond, Sanford said he and Dill haven't reached an agreement yet, but he hopes the university will want to extend their contract.

"I think we've helped build a lot of visibility for the team, the school and the Sanford Center and everything else with the broadcast just because of the reach we have," Sanford said. "The main concern I have long-term is, it won't allow us to reach that audience if we can't do the games next year. It isn't going to impact our budget that much, but it's getting the exposure. It's hard to put a dollar amount on that sort of thing, but it definitely has value."

Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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