ESPN Doesn't Black Out HD College Football Games, It Just Withholds Them

Responding to a post earlier this week in which college football fan Matt complained about not being able to watch certain college football games in HD on an ESPN channel due to programming decisions, Mike from ESPN’s communications department wrote in to clear the air:

We do not black out HD feeds of our college football games. As has always been the case with reverse mirrors, we can only offer one of our reverse mirror games in HD due to technical capacity. The game on ESPN or ESPN2 (depending on which network is offering the reverse mirror) in HD is the game that goes to most of the nation.

So if you live outside the area that ESPN deems will be more interested in a certain game it’s broadcasting, you’re out of luck. Count Hank, who wrote in to commiserate with Matt, among those huddled masses. He writes:

Just as a quick follow up to your post on Monday about the strange ESPN HD Blackouts; they have released the coverage maps for this weekend and they are at it again. For the 3:30 PM ET slate of games, most of the Southeast United States will be forced to watch the Michigan State-Michigan game (combined record: 10-0) on ESPN Standard Definition. Meanwhile, I’ll personally be stuck with the Clemson-North Carolina game (combined record: 4-4) on ABC HD, and nothing on ESPN HD.

Previously: ESPN Drives Football Fans Crazy With Arbitrary HD Blackouts


Edit Your Comment

  1. danmac says:

    So um…isn’t a reverse mirror just a window?

  2. Darrone says:

    You see, ESPN really does not care about you, because as long as they buy all the games, you are forced to watch them.

    • KyleOrton says:

      And as long as they hire all of the ex player announcers, you have to listen to Ernie Johnson on TBS.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Is “reverse mirror” some hip television industry term, or are they still not in the Digital Age?

    • TechnicallySpeaking says:

      They are referring to this:

      ABC/ESPN is a big family of networks. They will air the most locally-appropriate game on ABC for the benefit of people without cable. This game will be in HD.

      The “reverse mirror” game is the game that is shown on ESPN (or ESPN2 if they have 3 games at that time).

      In some parts of the country, it would be ABC: game A, ESPN: game B
      In other parts of the country: ABC: game B, ESPN: game A

      The more you know.

      • richcreamerybutter says:

        In Mike from ESPN’s quote, he says, “As has always been the case with reverse mirrors…” Is this just a proprietary ABC/ESPN term? Google returns message board results, such as the one posted below.

        Also in the explanation, it almost looks as if it’s more of a rights issue than lack of equipment, or is this completely incorrect?

        • TVGenius says:

          It’s a rights issue in that the conferences and NCAA often dictate the rules as to where games can be shown to not hurt ticket sales, etc, much the same way the NFL blacks out games locally when they don’t sell out.

          It’s not as much an equipment issue as a cost issue. You’re looking at millions in HD gear to build the infrastructure for these ‘alternate’ games that will only be used a few hours a week at most, and only seen in 10-20% of the country. Plus there’s the expenses of transferring the higher-bitrate signals via fiber/satellite, which aren’t cheap.

          One other thing I’m not sure about is how exactly ESPN handles the routing of individual games to individual areas/cable operators either. I know CBS has a system in place where the network controls the satellite receivers at the affiliates, which results in a system transparent to the affiliates during NFL and NCAA coverage. The local master control operator just punches up the main network feed, and it’s automatically whatever they’re supposed to be showing. ESPN would have to have some sort of setup to control which local cable headends are taking which game feed, and something for Dish/DirecTV to control who’s seeing the main vs. alternate ESPN feeds at any given time.

  4. one swell foop says:

    Perhaps you haven’t figured this out, living in the SE and all, but let me clue you in: The only thing bigger than jesus in the SE is SEC football. I don’t even care that much ab out football, but I care about SEC football. Michigan? You’ve got to be kidding me.

    • MamaBug says:

      AMEN! lol
      I’m telling you, there are 3 religions in the south: BBQ, Baptist, and Football.
      In Alabama, It’s Baptist, Auburn, and Alabama.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      Which is exactly why, in the Southeast, they’re showing the local game in HD, and relegating the Michigan-Michigan State game to standard def.

    • mbbbus says:

      Ummmm…. both Clemson and UNC are in the ACC, not the SEC.

    • cheri0627 says:

      But doesn’t everyone in the country want to watch Shoelace?!?

    • Kid U says:

      I actually don’t live in the SE (Hi, I’m Hank!), but rather DC Metro, and I think most people in this area (outside of super MD fans) could care less about Clemson-North Carolina. I just want to see Shoelace.

    • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

      it really depends on the time of year.
      In North Carolina, ACC Basketball wins out over almost anything. especially during the tournaments.

  5. mistersmith says:

    “…we can only offer one of our reverse mirror games in HD due to technical capacity.”

    I don’t know what “reverse mirror” means and I don’t care. I suspect that the “technical capacity” claim is BS from a BSer, hoping it’s enough jargon that people stop asking questions. But even if it’s the truth, they’re still on the hook for not having the “capacity” to do things well. That’s unacceptable, and dude, you never admit that your company can’t do things the right way — that’s just bad BSing.

    Let me ask this: what is the technical holdup preventing HD football from existing on multiple ESPN channels at the same time? Because I can flip the channels between ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC all day long and everything’s HD — unless it happens to be a football game that was unfortunately reflected (I guess that would be the verb) in a reverse mirror.

    • Gulliver says:

      If you do not like it, you are free to not watch the game in standard or hi def. Is there some consumer RIGHT to have EVERY thing YOU want in hi def at your whim? You do realize extra capacity to do this costs money. Sorry, but that is life, deal with it.

      • drizzt380 says:

        But he paid for ESPN HD. And he says that there will be “nothing” on that channel(I don’t know if its actually nothing. I only have his side, unless someone tells me something different, I only have one story to believe)

        Should a person who pays for a TV channel not be able to complain when that TV channel is useless?

        • radiantchains says:

          It’s not quite “nothing” on the channel when the game is blacked out: ESPN will simulcast ESPNews HD on the main ESPN HD channel.

      • mistersmith says:

        Gulliver, it’s simple:

        — Guy pays for ESPN HD.
        — ESPN is the official broadcaster of the game he wants.
        — ESPN broadcasts the game in HD, but not to the guy.
        — ESPN vaguely explains they can’t do it for technical reasons.

        Guy’s getting shafted by ESPN. I’d like to hear a legit explanation as to why.

      • WayneB says:

        Unless you’re going to refund me the portion of my cable bill that pays for ESPN, do not tell me I have no right to complain about what I’m not getting for the money.

  6. thrillcook says:

    Is anyone else getting annoyed with espn. Especially their radio coverage is crammed with nonsense like what transpires in an 8 minute span between commercials

    opening music sounder
    prerecorded announcement
    closing sounder
    opening music sounder
    some live content
    live read advertisement
    closing sounder
    More ads

    so much production with so little reward

  7. evilpete says:

    Where is the cat in the photo?

  8. vastrightwing says:

    B.S. detector: Basically they are saying that they don’t have the infrastructure to broadcast more than a couple of channels in HD at the same time? Is that what they’re saying? If so, this is Barbara Streisand! Where is it they don’t have the capacity? Is it the cameras? Is it the uplink? Come on, I don’t buy this at all. Somewhere in the chain, they are down converting the link on purpose. If it’s true they don’t have the capacity, they can use capacity from their bigger parent…. why am I bothering to explain this since it’s all lies anyway?

  9. EdK says:

    Here’s an explanation of the reverse-mirror:

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      So, the problem is a lack of infrastructure (i.e. physical equipment)?

      What the hell do my cable fees to ABC go toward? Office parties?

      • JoeTheDragon says:

        A lot of cable co do not have the room for lots of part time / alt feeds.

        The BIG comcast does not any of the big ten HD alts and there are like 3-4 of them and they do not have VS alt as well. Some cable co just show ESPN NEWS HD on ESPN1HD or ESPN2HD when they have to blackout ESPN1 or 2.

      • frank64 says:

        ESPN should ask for more money from the cable cos, what they get now isn’t enough.

  10. RxDude says:


    “We wring insane fees from cable and satellite companies for the “ESPN ad nauseum” family of channels. However, we are either too cheap to bring our broadcast capacity into the 21st century, or too lazy to flip the switch to broadcast each college football game in HD.”

  11. JoeTheDragon says:

    Directv even tryed to get ESPN Game Plan In HD. so Espn must not be able to handle alot of HD.

    Also the EPSN ALT HD from the world cup stayed in the guide right up to the start of college football so maybe they even tryed to the reverse mirror games in HD.

  12. mercenary83 says:

    Try watching ESPN College Football on DirecTV! They will give you ABC & ESPN in HD – but usually the 2nd half of a regional game is not shown in HD. What happens on DirecTV is that you can get the game, but unless you have purchased the ESPN GAME PLAN package, you get the 2nd game on one of the “backup” ESPN channels and it is NON-HD. The first time it happened this season, I called DirecTV and got that explanation – after some questioning – from one of the CSR’s. What a joke!

  13. StevePierce says:
  14. bigd738778 says:

    Wow. This article has helped me understand alot. I have been blaming Time Warner for the last couple of years because there are many times the “main” game is not that interesting and is the only one in HD and the other game available is always in standard def. I couldn’t understand how ESPN 2 was HD and ESPN U was HD but the main ESPN showing the alternate game from ABC was in standard def., so I could understand that there actually may be a capacity issue on ESPN’s part that would make alot of since considering how much of a drain HD is on a system. Hopefully they can get a solution to this so that every channel showing a game will be in HD. Well at least I will be watching Michigan State beat up on Michigan in HD. Yeah!!!!!

  15. ap0 says:

    I want to be able to do some sort of PPV for sports games. I only have limited basic (local channel only) cable, but would really like to be able to tune into college or NFL games live for a reasonable ($5 or less) fee. I wouldn’t even mind the ads — I just don’t want to have to subscribe to anything. Can someone please make this happen?

  16. Gulliver says:

    No he pays based on the REGION off the country he lives. There is no agreement between you and ESPN that EVERY game will be broadcast in hi-def. He IS getting a game in high def, it just is not the game he wants. He sounds like the guy in Texas who is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but can not see their game on TV and is “forced” to watch the Cowboys or Texans game. If he wants to pay for out of region games in HD, they have ESPN college game plan available for purchase.

    • Kid U says:

      You don’t understand the issue; 2/3 of the country is getting 2 games in HD (ABC/ESPN). 1/3 of the country is getting 1 game in HD (ABC) and 1 game in SD (ESPN). The issue is that certain parts of the country are having ESPN HD “turned off” for certain games. The fact that the better game is in SD is just adding insult to injury.