Senator wants probe into whether UH sports TV contractor got 'preferential treatment'

Senator wants probe into whether UH sports TV contractor got 'preferential treatment'
Published: Mar. 13, 2014 at 5:45 PM HST
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State Sen. Will Espero
State Sen. Will Espero
State Sen. Sam Slom
State Sen. Sam Slom

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state senator Wednesday called for the University of Hawaii to investigate whether it gave Oceanic Time Warner Cable company "preferential treatment" in extending a sports television contract.

UH announced last month that it had awarded a six-year extension of its TV and pay-per-view sports rights contract to Oceanic Time Warner Cable, which agreed to pay U-H $2.3 million a year to start with increases to $2.5 million by the sixth year.

Hawaii News Now General Manager Rick Blangiardi said his station group would have matched or exceeded that financial offer, showing substantially more games a year than Oceanic and broadcasting them for free, not on pay per view.

In an on-air editorial, Blangiardi said UH never allowed HNN to present its offer or a 32-page business plan.

"What reputable business, or athletic department, not to mention one that is struggling financially, would not to at least see a competing proposal that could have earned them considerably more money and, in our opinion, would have provided state-of-the-art production values and to a broader audience statewide?" Blangiardi said.

"I think UH should have shopped around," said State Sen. Will Espero (D- Ewa, Ewa Beach), who asked UH to investigate whether university officials gave Oceanic "preferential treatment."

"It certainly raised the red flag about whether UH was getting the best deal from Time Warner," Espero said.

State Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai, Kahala) said the new deal appears to favor Oceanic Cable.

"That may or may not be true, but that's the appearance.  And I think from a taxpayer's standpoint and from a voter's standpoint, I think people expect more of the university," Slom said.

Sources familiar with the negotiations said UH officials were worried that if UH didn't make a deal with Oceanic Cable before its exclusive negotiating window expired at the end of last month, the company could have cut UH out altogether and negotiated directly with the Mountain West conference for football rights, taking away a major portion of UH sports broadcast income.

The Mountain West conference holds ultimate media rights for all its members, sources said.

UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple has said nothing stopped Hawaii News Now or any other Oceanic competitor from making a bid for UH sports rights.

"I was most distressed at the statements that came from the chancellor that said, 'Oh yeah, other bidders had an opportunity," when that clearly doesn't seem to be the case," Slom said."It's not fair and I think most people know that."

Hawaii News Now asked UH for comment on this story but did not receive a call back or an email in response.

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