Brian Koonz: Next up for UConn women? Long-term TV deal

STORRS -- Twenty years ago, right about the time the UConn women's basketball team was chasing its first national championship, Rick Burton was chasing the NFL and other clients.

He was a vice president at Clarion Performance Properties, a sports and entertainment marketing company in Greenwich. Eventually, Burton took his ambition on the road.

All over the world -- from Beijing as chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee at the 2008 Summer Olympics to Australia as commissioner of the National Basketball League -- Burton saw the dynamic growth of women's basketball.

More than that, Burton saw UConn's unrivaled excellence: nine NCAA titles, eight national players of the year, 12 Olympians ... you get the idea.

Next up, a long-term TV deal for the Huskies?

It's the easiest sell in the history of selling.

"This is one of the greatest dynasties ever in sport. Why isn't someone trying to lock them up?" Burton wondered aloud Wednesday before No. 2 UConn's 92-58 rout of Temple.

There was no asterisk after Burton's assessment. And there certainly was no apology.

UConn's current TV deal -- a four-year contract worth about $4.5 million that expires next year -- was initially brokered by SNY. The terms were later picked up by ESPN when the Huskies joined the American Athletic Conference, which controls the broadcast rights of its members.

Just like the UConn women's basketball team outgrew the statewide reach of Connecticut Public Television, the Huskies will outgrow the American's regional package with SNY -- even with the national muscle of DIRECTV, Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse.

It's no coincidence this year's UConn roster has players from 10 states and Canada. The SNY market clicks into 14 million households, mostly in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Television has become the ultimate outlet pass in Storrs, the programming that converts casual viewers into devoted fans who book their lives around a basketball schedule.

The UConn women's basketball franchise -- and, really, that's what it is to TV executives -- will only get more valuable. There is no better long-term bet in women's college basketball.

"We're at the front end of the idea," said Burton, the David B. Falk Distinguished Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University's Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. "But UConn has been a constant."

As constant as national championships and dominant performances.

No one at Gampel Pavilion was surprised when UConn opened a 22-2 gash on the scoreboard Wednesday night against Temple. The blast resembled that precise moment when the guy in a cowboy hat and chaps raises the gate at the rodeo.

The Owls did their best to hold on, but it was no use. And plenty of households saw the dust-up in high definition.

Maybe some fans were surprised Dec. 29 when UConn routed then-No. 10 Duke by 31 points in Hartford. But again, the Huskies play a legacy and a style more than an opposing jersey because the system is absolute.

It always has been.

"That's pretty much the goal most games. I can't think of a better way to start any game, getting three or four layups right away, and getting to the free throw line as well," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after his team improved to 15-1, 4-0 in the AAC.

"Morgan (Tuck) and (Breanna Stewart) were very aggressive right from the beginning, and they know if they're working hard, are aggressive, and they want the ball, they're going to get it."

Auriemma, the Hall of Fame coach who is more Philly than filigree, is the linchpin here for any long-term TV deal. He is the basketball whisperer, the muse for 30 years of success at UConn.

With Auriemma locked up through the 2017-18 season with a $10.8 million contract -- and beyond that if he negotiates another extension -- the Huskies aren't going anywhere.

Now it's just a matter of getting that long-term TV deal done.

Brian Koonz is the group sports columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media. Contact him at bkoonz@ctpost.com or @briankoonz on Twitter.