College Q&A: Mountain West Senior Associate Commissioner Dan Butterly
There have been few places more frenetic than a college athletics conference office over the past half decade. Television rights deals have poured more wealth into the industry than ever before, but realignment led to chaos and uncertainty.
One of the conferences most impacted by the insanity was the Mountain West. Seemingly left up a creek without a paddle just a couple of years ago after some key exits, the MWC has bounced back with a vengeance and is currently enjoying one of its most successful basketball campaigns in its history. In addition, the league restructured its television deal with CBS in December, further establishing its re-found stability, while also setting plan’s for the league’s first football championship game which will debut in 2013.
One of the rising stars in college athletics administration calls the Mountain West home. Dan Butterly, the conference’s senior associate commissioner, is an active member of the college sports industry. In addition to negotiating and writing numerous television, radio, business, and corporate partnership agreements, as well as oversight of men’s basketball and directing the Reese’s Mountain West Basketball Championships, Butterly was also the man behind the 2012 NCAA Women’s Final Four in Denver.
The Sports Video Group is pleased to welcome Butterly as the new Honorary Chairman of the SVG College Sports Summit. He took time to speak with SVG to discuss some of the biggest obstacles and thrills of working in one of the top conference offices in the country.
It’s been a wild few years for the Mountain West Conference; schools leaving, schools coming back, adding new schools. In your opinion, what is the state of the conference right now and what is the conference office’s vision for the future?
At the end of recent conference realignment, the Mountain West is bigger and stronger than ever. For example, take men’s basketball, where we are currently playing the final two weeks of conference play leading into our championships in Las Vegas. As of Monday, February 18, seven of nine Mountain West teams were ranked in the top 75 of the Feb. 18 NCAA RPI rankings. That is the highest percentage (.778) of any conference in the country. The Mountain West is the only conference with all of its teams ranked in the top 160 of the RPI. Also, overall, the conference ranked 2nd in Collegiate Basketball News/RPIRatings.com, 2nd in CBSSports.com (Jerry Palm) and 2nd in RealTimeRPI.com. We have a membership that is excited about the future and working towards strengthening the conference on many levels. We look towards the next academic year with a new football championship game, development and launch of our digital network and establishing partnerships with entities seeking an affiliation with a strong, solid, western-based collegiate athletic conference.
Last spring the conference said goodbye to The Mtn. television network. In your eyes, what is the legacy of The Mtn.?
The Mtn. will always be the first-ever network developed exclusively to promote one conference and it remains a very progressive concept. The staff at the network was highly aggressive in developing innovative content for a 24/7 network focused only on the Mountain West and our nine member institutions. Other conferences, either through the creation of their linear network or digital network, have followed the lead of The Mtn.
In the wake of The Mtn. shutting down, how difficult was it sorting out the broadcasting rights earlier this year with many games tied to The Mtn. Was there a scramble to make sure games were made available at least on local TV?
There was definitely a change of direction related to where games could be televised. In 2011-12, we had CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network and The Mtn. producing hundreds of games for the Mountain West each year, with very little inventory left to broadcast locally. The Mtn. produced a minimum of 30 football games, 75 basketball games, 30 women’s basketball games and all of our championships. With the network shut down on May 31, we had to be innovative in our approach to getting as many games broadcast as possible in 2012-13. Deputy Commissioner Bret Gilliland did a tremendous job working with our partners at Wasserman Media Group to get football games not selected for national broadcast placed on regional networks and local affiliates. In all sports, we were able to release more games to the institutions directly for their distribution on local/regional networks than we have in the past seven years. It was a challenge with such short notice between the shutdown of the network and the next academic year, but collectively, we made it work with great success.
While cable networks grab the headlines, digital networks are having a profound impact on college sports content. How can conferences and their member institutions utilize digital rights to their fullest potential? What role does social media play?
After national broadcast and cable networks select their games, there are generally hundreds of additional games and events that can be broadcast through a conference digital network each year. Every one of these games or events can be made available worldwide, with few, if any restrictions. Research by comScore indicated that 179 million U.S. Internet users watched nearly 38 billion videos of online video content in February, 2012. According to research released in June 2012, 53% of individuals with iPad or other tablet devices watch video content at least once per month. Forecasts projected 106.1 million tablets were to ship in 2012. All of these devices can watch content created for digital networks, and most TVs are now “internet-ready”. Having a digital network will be vital to the visibility of every conference or institution. Also, one great benefit of a digital network is the conference or institution fully controls the content of these broadcasts.
What are some of the biggest challenges that arise from a conference perspective when balancing network broadcast agreements with school’s broadcasting their own content?
The biggest challenge is defining who owns what rights. There are many rights obligated within network broadcasts agreements signed by conference memberships that limit what institutions can broadcast digitally, locally or regionally. One role of a conference office is to know these rights and restrictions and to work with the institutions directly to educate them on these limits.
Last year you served as tournament manager for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four. What are some of the major responsibilities that come with that job and how big of a role did technology, both on the broadcasting and venue side, play in that job?
The 2012 NCAA Women’s Final Four was a tremendous event for the City of Denver and State of Colorado. It was the first time in the history of the event that it had been played in the Mountain Time Zone. A part of my role was to serve on the local organizing committee in Denver, work with Pepsi Center on facility-related issues and game management and to work daily with our partners at Denver Sports and the Denver Convention and Visitor’s Bureau – Visit Denver. Technology played a significant role in the championship, from communicating to fans prior to and during the event, to allowing fans to communicate their experiences via social media. Actually, I wondered during the national championship game how many people on their smart phones or tablets took pictures and shared them via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. As event managers and rightsholders, we used to restrict the use of cameras during a major event, and now, we actually encourage usage due to benefits of social media interaction. As the NFL has learned, all facilities need to have increased connectivity infrastructure to allow fans to utilize their smart phones and tablets in the facility without issue, or otherwise, they may choose to stay home rather than attend a game in person. Attending sporting events is now about the collective experience, as much as the outcome of the game.
You’ve come on board as Honorary Chairman of the SVG College Sports Summit this year. Having taken a look at the program, what are some of the sessions or topics that you are most looking forward to see discussed?
The keynote speakers, networking breaks and particularly the exhibit areas are always valuable, but with regard to specific sessions or topics, right now, I am looking forward to The Venue Boom: Technology, the Fan Experience, Best Practices in Asset Management and the CSMA Awards. The awards presentation is always competitive, and it amazes me how even the smallest of collegiate video programs can compete and win against the major universities.
Going forward, what role would you like to see the Sports Video Group and the SVG College Sports Summit play in the college sports industry?
The event continues to grow and improve, but we must get more Commissioners and Athletic Directors to attend this event to learn more about how video content usage is expanding in ways never foreseen 5-10 years ago. People, particularly students that are recruited to colleges and universities across the country, are no longer reading newspapers, and their viewing of linear TV continues to decrease. Generation Y and the Millennials are getting their content on smart phones and tablets, and they want to view content when it is best for them, not when it is fed to them. Having top leaders understand the importance of this change in paradigm is key to their future and the institutions they represent, as well as the SVG College Sports Summit.