A company claiming it has rights to broadcast athletic contests within the SWAC has threatened to sue the league, claiming it interfered with a potential big-time sponsor.
An attorney representing Urban Edge Networks Inc., parent company of HBCU League Pass +, sent a notice to the SWAC on April 14 that it will be filing suit against the conference. The document, obtained by HBCU Gameday, alleges “improper and illegal interference” with UEN’s “expected business transaction” with PepsiCo by the SWAC.
SWAC Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland sent a copy of the notice from the attorney to the presidents and chancellors of the conference on Thursday. The letter informed the Council of Presidents that PepsiCo had reached out to him about Urban Edge broadcasting SWAC contests, in which he stated they had no rights to do so. His correspondence read in part:
But any entity that is approaching PepsiCo for media buys and referencing broadcasting SWAC games should be evaluated more closely. It has been brought to my attention that several entities have approached some of our corporate partners and others regarding media buys for SWAC games. Just for your information, SWAC Conference games cannot be streamed or broadcasted on a national basis outside of the Conference agreements. In addition, Member Institutions cannot grant permission to other entities to broadcast games either linear or digitally on a national basis; all Conference games are restricted and can only be negotiated by the Conference Office.SWAC Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland
According to his email, his response prompted UEN to send the threat of a suit alleging “tortious interference.”
McClelland expressed concern that the issue could jeopardize the league’s relationship with PepsiCo, who the league is renegotiating with for potential eight-figure payment. He stated it poses a potentially bigger threat to the league’s negotiations with Byron Allen Media Group for secondary broadcast rights. The email states that the total funding jeopardized could potentially be in excess of $100 million.
SWAC broadcasting rights
According to its website, UEN provides media assets for the HBCU League Pass +, which announced deals with multiple SWAC institutions this February. The deals, one with Florida A&M and another with Grambling State, included signage on NASCAR vehicles as well as an app with channels for live streaming.
FAMU was the first to announce a deal with the UEN, posting a release on Feb. 15.
“The network will broadcast all available sports, the Marching 100, and other university-related content with a dedicated channel to FAMU Athletics on HBCU League Pass+,” the release stated. “This allows FAMU to join Urban Edge in this latest black-owned media initiative. The live streaming network is primed to create new revenue streams and ensure fans, students, and alumni can watch their teams play anywhere there is an internet connection and on-demand 24/7.”
A week later, Grambling State announced a similar deal. Shortly thereafter, the SWAC sent leadership a reminder stating that member institutions cannot sign national rights deals in linear or digital form. SWAC institutions can broadcast on their own individual streaming networks, local television and regional television.
McClelland made it clear to the SWAC leadership that he intends to resolve the issue, stating that the league intends to file counterclaims, potentially for fraud or false representation.
“SWAC intends to fight this lawsuit vigorously and aggressively,” McClelland wrote, “we will not stand by and allow 3rd parties to try to take advantage of the SWAC and our institutions.”