Midco Sports Net Brings College, High School Sports to Cable Subscribers

“We are the regional home of high school and college sports in North Dakota, South Dakota, and western Minnesota.” That, simply put, is how Tom Nieman describes Midco Sports Net, which premiered this month on Midcontinent Communications, serving 240 communities with 250,000 customers.

The channel had been in the works for three years, according to Nieman, programming manager for Midcontinent and a former sports anchor and reporter at KELO-TV Sioux Falls, SD. “We’ve been doing some live events. We had some of the equipment, a live truck, part of the crew, the engineers, and we obviously had the way to deliver it.

“Midcontinent management,” he adds, “specifically Pat McAdaragh, Steve Grosser, and Dick Busch, saw [the channel] as a way to be a community service — and, somewhere down the road, make some money on it.”

Programming on the channel includes a live college football game each week featuring one of nine local institutions, including the University of South Dakota, South Dakota State, University of North Dakota, Augustana College, and Bemidji State. For the games, the channel deploys Midcontinent’s seven-camera standard-definition truck.

Midco Sports Net also produces a weekly coaches’ show for the University of South Dakota and carries coaches’ shows provided by South Dakota State and Augustana.

The channel also carries North Dakota hockey and games in the Black Hills produced by an independent production company and fills out the lineup with fishing shows and rodeo broadcasts.

For Nieman, the new channel marks a return to sports television. For 10 years, he was on-air at the Sioux Falls CBS affiliate. In recent years, he had moved away from broadcasting but returned to work freelance on Midcontinent games over the past two years. Now, as programming manager, he notes that “the crew we’ve put together is almost the same as we had 15 years ago when we were doing live events at KELO-TV. We kind of put the band back together and hit the road this year.”

One of the more popular offerings on the channel is its high school football coverage. “We go out on Friday nights and shoot high school games with a single HD camera,” he says. The games are edited down to 90 minutes and aired in HD. “Those have gotten the biggest response.”

After the football season concludes, the channel will cover college volleyball and other winter and spring sports. “We have an agreement with the Northern Sun Conference, and we have a basketball schedule set,” Nieman says. Last year, Midcontinent carried the Summit League basketball finals in Sioux Falls, and he hopes it will be doing that again this year.

The channel is currently supported by two major sponsors: a hospital system and an auto dealership. Additional advertisers support individual games and programs.

Plans include the addition of an HD production truck and more live productions. A new control room has been built that is HD “from end to end.”

Nieman says Midco Sports Net is “perfect for me. I was in TV, got out of it for 10 years, but said this is one position I would come back to TV for.” For him and his staff and crew, “it’s something new and fresh.”

And, he adds, Midco Sports Net “was a long time coming for this area.”