What Does the Deseret News and BYU Football Have to do With an Empire?
Within a twelve-hour period, the shape of the Latter Day Saints media operations has been turned on its side. While some see the downsizing of the Deseret News to be a sign of financial weakness, I see that move and the independence of church owned Brigham Young University football to be the foundation of a Mormon media empire.
Let’s go back a few steps though and let me explain why I’ve come to this conclusion.
I’m a college football fan. It is my favorite spectator sport. Off season usually has a merry-go-round of coaching changes. This off-season the merry-go-round included conference realignment. First it was the possibility of the Big 12 dissolving and then a PAC-10 superconference. What wound up happening was a complete realignment in the West…namely the Mountain West Conference and the Western Athletic Conference.
Soon after Utah accepted a move to the PAC 10, we were made aware of BYU’s desire to go independent in football and move its other sports to a new conference. Plans to move back to the WAC dissolved when the MWC invited Nevada and Fresno St. to join and they accepted. Many people thought BYU would stay in the Mountain West. I didn’t. Neither did Kurt Kragthorpe.
Around the same time, I was reading about the Deseret News planning to shift its operations. It looked to many to be a cost cutting move, but it’s not. It’s a complete realignment of the religion’s media empire. They’re not downsizing, they’re consolidating.
Two trends kept coming out during the discussion of both the football conference and the newspaper. First, both divisions were relying on the attention of the built-in religious audience. For football, the school estimated viewership of 60 million world-wide.
Part of BYU’s unhappiness with the MWC stems from the fact that it receives only about $1.5 million in television revenue from the league. It believes it can get more by negotiating its own TV deals, or by televising games on its own network, BYU TV.
For the newspaper, numbers show 60% of its audience is out-of-state viewing online.
…the church connection provides an unusual opportunity to build beyond the typical local audience. Gilbert, who describes himself as “a devout Mormon,” said there has been “a world-wide diaspora (of the faith) and that gives us a chance for a world-wide audience — 60 percent of the traffic is not Utah-based.”That prompts content that “is more thoughtful, more global” than just local breaking news. “We don’t want to be normal,” he continued, citing, as an example, coverage of church relief projects “improving people’s lives” after the Haiti earthquake.