When the University of Montana Grizzlies take the football field this weekend in Missoula, there will be more than just the 25,000 people watching from the stands of Washington-Grizzly Stadium. More will be watching, thanks to a successful effort on Facebook to petition ESPN to air the first round playoff games for both UM and Montana State University.
Last week fans of both teams were disappointed to find out that even though ESPN had purchased the rights to the Football Championship Subdivision playoff games, they would only be available on ESPN3, an Internet-only channel not widely available in Montana.
So John Sterrett and a group of fans got together and created a Facebook event to petition the network to make the games available. It took off. Within hours of the event's creation, thousands of people were going to the page and at last count, 24,399 people joined the event; 95,203 were invited. Assuming all of those people were from the state of Montana, it would equal well over a tenth of the state's population.
On Tuesday afternoon, ESPN announced that both Montana games, and six other FCS games, would be available on the network's GamePlan subscription service. Fans will still have to pay about $25 to see the games, but most Montanans were calling it a win, including the state's Washington D.C. delegation.
“ESPN made the right call for Montana, and I appreciate them listening to the thousands of fans who rallied in support of Montana football,” U.S. Senator Jon Tester wrote in a press release.
But perhaps the biggest thanks should go to the thousands of Facebook users and Montana football fans who joined the event and buried ESPN's Facebook page with dozens of pleas to air the games. Most fans were extremely grateful to the network for changing their mind and within hours the petition's profile picture turned to “Thanks ESPN.”
“One Small Step for Montana, One Giant Leap for FCS Football!” Sterrett wrote on his Facebook wall soon after hearing about the decision.
Photo by Justin Franz