The state of Louisiana has about 4.5 million people. Louisiana has 2 FBS schools, 1 Private FBS schools and 4 FCS schools. Houston and the Beaumont area combine for 6 million people. Yet 1 FBS, 1 private FBS, 1 FCS... Lamar will fill that void.
Looking at the map, College Station is roughly the same distance from Houston as Beaumont. Wouldn't Texas A&M count as part of Houston's market?
Well in technical terms, no. The country is divided up into media markets that rotate around a dominant metro area where the top TV stations were located. It is not as simple as drawing a circle around big cities though. The divisions generally follow county lines, with certain counties being considered part of certain media markets and other being part of neighboring media markets. Almost none of those are even round.
Sam Houston State (SHSU) for example is in a community miles outside of Houston. You'd have to really fudge it to call Conroe a Suburb of Houston, but the county they are in is in the Houston Media Market. Technically that means if they wanted to have their games on TV to conroe and the neighboring small towns, they would get the games broadcast on a TV station in the Houston Market. Essentially, they cannot make it smaller than that.
Lamar on the other hand is in the tiny Beaumont Market. This means that if they wanted to get their games on TV they could potentially put them on a local Beaumont TV station. There is no gurantee that that station would be seen in Houston though, because it may be seen as too niche. Now obviously the business point of college sports is to expose young people to your university. Lamar would clearly try to get their games on in the Houston Media Market. The problem would be that TV viewership would drive that and as I stated before, Lamar is a small public. They don't have many alumni at all. Would they be able to draw viewership in Houston? As an adverstiser, would you rather adverstise to Lamar or the filthy rich, high profile rice fan? Rice draws 22K a game in FBS IN HOUSTON. Would you rather advertise to UH fans with their enourmous alumni base --- most of which live in Houston. Would you rather sell to SHSU or Lamar? SHSU is twice the size of Lamar and their entire enrollment and most of their alumni base again, live in the houston media market. Lamar's enrollment lives in the Beaumont market and probably at minimum, half of their alumni base is also there.
If there is no viewership and little advertising revenue in broadcasting in a region, TV will not jump to do it. TV stations and networks likewise have to see that to be entusiastic about a conference and pay them well. Lower tier FBS conferences are very reliant on TV revenue, so TV drives a number of membership decisions.
I mapped all of this out because I had a very caustic (but very media savy) guy named the Metropolitan hand me my lunch in a very rude fashion on this site on a TV market discussion because I had forgotten all of this from my intro to marketing class 15 years ago. I think he was a media planner or buyer or something. Not everyone knows all of that crap. I hope I add value in this area to the discussion, without being an ass.
What I will do now is look up a school in Wikipedia, see where they are located, see what county it is, then pop over to the Truck ads media market map (http://truckads.com/licensed_affiliates1.asp#usamap) and locate that county then plot it onto my personal color coded national media market map.
Texas A&M is in college station. College Station is in Brazos County, which is part of the Waco media Market. A&M is however a very large university with an enrollment of over 46K and an enthustiastic sports university drawing 77K to football and 8K to basketball. A&M is considered a state flagship (UT & A&M are both) and as such have statewide followings. A&M is an excellent academic school and as such, a large chunk of their Alumni won't stay in college Station, because more money can be made elsewhere by a graduate with a well-respected degree --- Houston being a notable example. A&M being located in a small town (College Station Bryan is only 190K) sends the majority of their graduates out into the state to work. An abundance go to Houston and DFW. That makes them TV relevant in both markets and would even if they were not a flagship.
It is likely that A&M has more alumni in Houston than Lamar has alumni in total and that their average alumnis in houston make 1.5 to 2 times as much as Lamar alumni and as such are an audience with a lot more disposable income for advertisers to chase. (Not hating. TAMU "former students" average more than my school alumni as well.)
Houston doesn't have a great void in Universities and pro teams claiming their markets. For this reason, while I do think there is room for a houston market native, mid-sized public school outside the NFL and NBA killzones (like SHSU) to make the jump. I do not know if the media support would be there to drive a Lamar jump.
Now all this said, we may soon see a definitive change in the default way TV advertising is sold. As pay perview and subscription TV takes hold, other universities will develop revenue models that support FBs pushes. I don't think Lamar with it's very small and relatively poor alumni base will gain from that emerging business model.
The advent of cable TV displacing broadcast could help them a lot though. Cable TV can potential erase the Market boundaries that remain from broadcast. That might make a conference look as Lamar and see Houston relevance, but at the end of the day they are still a school with a tiny, comparitively poor alumni base.
Finally one last point. Every non-BCS school is struggling to paint themselves or failing that, their conference as a BCS caliber. How does adding a small public with average academics help? Lamar might optimistically draw 22K as an FBS school. How does that help? Lamar is not a rich public, like U of Cinnci. They have little to hang their hats on other than proximity to Houston, and competition (Texans, Rockets, UH, Rice, TAMU, UT, SHSU, and even Baylor), the media market lines, and their size minimize that advantage.
Frankly today both SHSU and SFA have better FBS arguements. SHSU I have already discussed, SFA is also in a small media market (260K TV Tyler market) but could draw as much houston interest as Lamar and could also draw interest in the "empty" Shereveport market (384K TVs). (By "Empty" I mean only that there is no FBS school in the market and I have found no mention of a football team at all above high school level within 50 miles of the Shreveport city limits.)
This is why I say Lamar should get into FCS and build support to go with SHSU and SFA to FBS in 10-15 years. Together they could get someone's attention by leveraging their combined alumni bases into real Houston Metro relevancy.