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Duke basketball's trip to the Bahamas offered limited TV exposure

Quinn Cook complained about the high temperature on the Battle 4 Atlantis court after Duke’s vs. Minnesota.
Quinn Cook complained about the high temperature on the Battle 4 Atlantis court after Duke’s vs. Minnesota.

This is part two of a two part series looking at non-basketball aspects of Duke basketball’s trip to the Bahamas. Today’s examines the tourtnament’s television rights and playing venue. Part one examined the decision to attend the tournament.

Although the journey to Nassau for the Battle 4 Atlantis was much easier for Duke than the 4,700-mile trek to the Maui Invitational last year, those trying to watch on television had a much more difficult experience.

Games in Maui are televised on ESPN, but television rights for the Atlantis tournament were granted to a pair of newly rebranded networks, AXS TV and NBC Sports Network, which were formerly known as HDNet and Versus, respectively. Most Duke fans were able to watch the Blue Devils in the semifinals and finals on NBC Sports Network, but the first-round game on AXS TV was unavailable to a significant portion of the Blue Devil faithful.

“We obviously work with ESPN a lot, so we knew there was a possibility—I kind of thought it would be different,” said Mike Cragg, a senior associate director of athletics who handles much of the team’s scheduling. “The AXS thing—I hope they can get that a little more distributed…. The games are worthy—if you look at the fields going forward—the fields are definitely worthy of having national exposure, and so that was disappointing for us.”

AXS TV, which was developed by entrepreneur Mark Cuban—who also owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks—is aiming to be the “ESPN of music,” according to Cuban.

“Our focus is on live concerts and special events,” Cuban wrote in a November 23 e-mail. “So you won’t see us focus on college basketball.” Nonetheless, Cuban said that AXS TV plans to continue broadcasting the Battle 4 Atlantis “for a long time.”

“We aren’t owned by a big conglomerate. We are not part of a big media empire. As a result we have to work harder to get carriage,” Cuban said. “Hopefully Duke fans everywhere will call their local TV providers and ask for AXS TV to be carried.”

There were other hitches for the Blue Devils during their stay in the Bahamas. They had to get used to an unusual lighting setup in the conference center-turned-arena, and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and point guard Quinn Cook both complained about high temperatures on the court after the first game.

Paul Burke, chief operating officer of Kerzner International Bahamas—the firm that operates Atlantis Paradise Island—said that the lighting setup had been improved over the 2011 edition of the tournament and that additional air conditioning was utilized overnight before the second day of play. The extra efforts seemed to pay off—the players seemingly got acclimated to the lighting and temperatures became more tolerable, as neither of those concerns were raised by Krzyzewski and his players after Thursday.

The only complaint that the organizers could not address was the sheer size of the resort. The court was located at least a 10-minute walk from the team’s accommodations, and by the end of the tournament, Duke players were taking a bus to get to the playing facility. The Blue Devils were the only team not regularly sighted walking through Atlantis’ mall and casino in basketball attire to get to and from their rooms.

Even though a second-year event of this magnitude can hardly be expected to go off without a hitch, all parties ultimately seemed pleased with the results.

Burke said that occupancy rates at the resort went from the 50-percent range at this time of year to completely sold out Tuesday through Saturday of Thanksgiving week. And Duke emerged with crucial experience against one of the best early-season tournament fields in the country, while the team’s families and fans got to enjoy all the amenities of Atlantis.

“The tournament field ranks as tough as any that we’ve been a part of,” Krzyzewski said. “And one of the neat things about being here is that everyone you meet has a smile on their face and a warm heart.”

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