February 12

Deal between civic center, Time Warner puts Class A title games back on TV

The traditional airing of high school basketball battles for a Gold Ball trophy were at risk before Time Warner and the civic center resolved their dispute.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Time Warner Cable and the Cumberland County Civic Center have reached a three-year agreement that will give the cable company access to the arena and allow broadcasts of high school basketball championship games as in years past.

A dispute between the two had threatened the broadcast of this year’s top state championship games, which will be played at the arena in downtown Portland.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center’s trustees, said Tuesday that Time Warner Cable agreed to a new civic center sponsorship, which gives it rights to install its cable link in the building. Terms of the deal were not available Tuesday.

The cable link will enable the company to provide a signal for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network to televise the Class A championships. The state’s biggest high schools play in Class A.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Joe Russo, the boys’ basketball coach at Portland High School. “It was the right thing to do. This is great for the fans who can’t get to the game. They now can watch it on TV.”

The dispute centered on Time Warner’s cable link in the building, which was removed during a 15-month, $34 million renovation. In the past, Time Warner wasn’t charged for cable access because it was a civic center sponsor and paid $10,000 to get its name on the scoreboard and tickets to events.

The company initially chose not to renew its sponsorship, but still wanted to reinstall its cable. The civic center wanted to charge Time Warner to connect to the building, to cover power consumption and space rental.

The fee was in the range of $5,000 to $8,000 for a permanent link, or a one-time fee of $200 to plug into the arena to broadcast a specific event. The cable company said a temporary connection would not be feasible.

“We are happy to continue our relationship with the Cumberland County Civic Center,” Paul Schonewolf, area vice president of operations for Time Warner Cable, said in a written statement. “As a result of our agreement, we are able to partner with MPBN again to produce and televise the ... Class A championship games on March 1.”

“It means a lot to the kids,” said Todd Wing, the boys’ basketball coach at Deering High School in Portland. “I know when we won the state title in 2012 at the civic center, the players really enjoyed being on TV. They worked hard to get there, and their efforts should be rewarded. Not to mention, televising the game is a longstanding tradition. It’s a great way to showcase the newly renovated civic center. Why hide it?”

The civic center is scheduled to reopen this weekend.

MPBN, which said previously that about 21,000 to 25,000 people watch each televised game, doesn’t have enough personnel or equipment to cover all 44 games in the tournament, which begins Feb. 19. It relies on partners to pull together equipment and personnel to cover regional semifinals and finals, and state championship games.

MPBN produces games played at the Augusta Civic Center. It partners with Husson University and the New England School of Communications, which produce the games played at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Time Warner has been the partner to handle the broadcasts from Portland.

All of the broadcasts are transmitted back to MPBN’s facility in Bangor for distribution statewide on television and online.

Cory Morrissey, director of marketing for MPBN, said, “We knew all parties were working hard to make this happen. It’s an outstanding outcome – especially for our viewers and tournament fans across the state who now will see the two Class A final games as scheduled.”

MPBN said it still wasn’t clear Tuesday whether the Class B boys’ and girls’ Western Maine semifinals and finals will be broadcast from Portland. Time Warner Cable said the agreement with the civic center has just been finalized so it is unclear whether it will be feasible to broadcast next week’s regional games.

Matt Talbot, a basketball player for Portland High, said, “It would have seemed weird not to have the Class A state championship games on TV. I have family members who can’t make it to every game, so this would have been the only chance for them to watch it.”

Staff Writer Tom Chard contributed to this report.

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: jhall@pressherald.com

Twitter: @JessicaHallPPH

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