OK, so Columbus is a ways away from our Northeast Ohio home base, but you'd think we would have heard about this by now.
The folks in Central Ohio have a brand new regional sports network, to compete with the likes of FSN Ohio for Columbus-market sports viewers. Well, sort of a "network".
It's the Columbus Sports Network, alternatively abbreviated as either "CS" (per the logo) or "CSN" (like the Comcast folks call their sports networks). It launched in late March.
"CSN" aims to fill a hyper-local sports niche for Central Ohio sports fans.
Though there's plenty for the most rabid Ohio State football or basketball fans, with talk shows and sports news shows talking Buckeyes, the network will air contests from a wide variety of OSU sports that don't get wide coverage.
Want to watch the OSU women's volleyball team? Don't think Buckeye baseball gets enough TV coverage? This is your place.
Of course, the "big stuff" in Buckeye-land remains on ABC, ESPN, the upcoming Big Ten Network and the like.
The network also provides play-by-play coverage of the Arena Football League Columbus Destroyers, the MLS Columbus Crew, and the AAA Columbus Clippers baseball team. The market's only major professional team, the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets (see, we got it right!), are seen on the NHL's national outlets (NBC, Versus), and locally on FSN Ohio.
The Clippers deal (14 games through the end of the 2007 season) is fairly significant, as the Clippers don't even have an in-market radio broadcast outlet this season.
After losing Stop 26 Riverbend-to-Bernard Radio's WVKO/1580 when the station went off the air last year, the Clippers hooked up with North American Broadcasting standards WMNI/920 for some weekend games in 2006. (By the way, OMW hears tower work continues on Morse Road for the replacement for WVKO's abandoned site, with three towers now up.)
The Clippers/WMNI relationship did not renew in 2007. The Clippers can only be heard over the radio in Columbus if you're driving in front of Cooper Stadium, where the webcast from clippersbaseball.com airs on a low-power Part 15 outlet on 101.9 FM.
Curiously enough, we've heard that a couple of out-of-market stations carry selected games - WCLT/1430 Newark and the Springfield half of the WONE/980 Dayton-based sports simulcast "980 Homer", WIZE/1340. This must be the only radio baseball network in the nation without a flagship station in its own market.
We suspect things will change dramatically when the Clippers open up a new stadium in 2009.
Anyway, back to Columbus Sports Network. Is it really a regional sports "network"?
Though it's carried on all the major Columbus cable providers, it is actually based out of low-power TV station WCSN-LP 32...which just nabbed a power upgrade that should give it a pretty good signal in much of the area.
The CSN folks do mention the over-air signal, but the station is fronted like any other RSN, and cable coverage is emphasized strongly.
In case you're wondering how Columbus got a new LPTV outlet on channel 32, it actually is a move for a long-time LPTVer in the small town of Bucyrus.
The former owners of W54AF sold the station to the Florida-based company which is a major CSN investor - United Media Acquisitions - for a reported cost of $800,000.
While that's small change for even an LPTVer in a market the size of Columbus, we're surprised no one noticed this back in 2004, when United bought the then-Bucyrus station. $800K is a large amount for an LPTV station in a rural city.
United Media Acquisitions owns one other station, KBTU-LP in Salt Lake City. But they're LMAing (and selling) that outlet to Bustos Media, which operates it as a locally-programmed Spanish-language station.
Anyway, we've never seen Columbus Sports Network, but we're told by those who have that it has a professional look you wouldn't expect from such an outlet...