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Sports Then and Now

Do That Many People Really Care About the University of Texas?

Posted on January 20, 2011 by Dean Hybl

The Texas Longhorns will get even more exposure in the future following their deal with ESPN.

I don’t mean to sound flip or disrespectful, but I was shocked and bewildered when I heard the news that the University of Texas is partnering with ESPN to create a specific television network that will be “All Longhorns, All the Time.”

While it left some of us scratching our heads, obviously more than one person at ESPN thinks this opportunity is as primed for success as a Texas oil mine because they are going to pay the University $300 million over the next 20 year for the right to help develop, launch and operate the network.

The network will include one exclusive UT football game each year (pretty good bet it won’t be UT-Oklahoma) as well as eight men’s basketball games and women’s basketball games that are not televised elsewhere. The rest of the programming will be a combination of Olympic sports, coaches’ shows for every UT program and other campus programming including visiting speakers, lectures and commencement.

I understand that UT is the largest university in the second most populated state in our wonderful country.  However, I can’t believe there are that many people outside of Texas that are really going to be interested in watching the UT men’s tennis coaches’ show or who will be waiting with baited breath to watch a women’s soccer game on a Thursday evening.

It sounds wonderful if you are one of the 48,000 students at the school, approximately 450,000 alumni, or even the 25 million residents of Texas, but what about the other 283 million people who live in the United States and don’t bleed UT orange?

Because it isn’t even like the athletic programs at Texas are all national powers with high-profile superstars and national championships coming out of their ears.

The national championship won by UT in men’s swimming and diving in 2009-2010 was the first by the university since they claimed the football and women’s indoor track & field during the 2005-2006 school year.

What Do You Think of the New Texas Longhorns Network?

  • Another blow to ESPN's impartiality (59%, 10 Votes)
  • Are they serious? (29%, 5 Votes)
  • Great Idea, Can't Wait! (12%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 17

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Of the 48 national titles that UT boasts since 1948, 19 have come in swimming and diving and 11 have been in track & field. Other than watching those sports in the Olympics every four years, I don’t recall those sports being real ratings grabbers.

The new network will broadcast only one live football game per season, but will have lots of programming from the other sports at UT.

It all just makes me struggle to believe that there will really be enough interest and viewership outside of Texas and the South Central part of the United States for this network to really turn an enormous profit.

But I guess that is really ESPN’s problem rather than a problem for Texas. And I cannot pretend to be an expert in the nuances of television programming and expenditures.

But I am pretty sure that regardless of whether the network attracts big ratings and is a revenue winner, this partnership is great for Texas and is going to dramatically change the landscape of college athletics.

Unlike the Big Ten and SEC Networks, this initiative isn’t going to provide money for all the teams in a conference evenly. Instead, all the revenue will go directly to one institution with no sharing involved.

Over time, the addition of revenue for the athletic programs at Texas could really provide them even more of a competitive advantage over their Big 12 rivals than already exists. There will simply be no way for Baylor, Texas Tech, Iowa State or Kansas State to compete across the board against the type of money that UT will be able to pump into every sport.

And you have to wonder how long it will take before some of the “big boys” in other conferences start looking at how they can create a similar venture. Just off the top of my head, I can see Ohio State, Florida, USC, Michigan and Notre Dame all looking to replicate the deal received by Texas.

Given the tremendous amount of money that ESPN pays annually for the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, college basketball, college football and all their other high profile programming shown on their ever-growing series of networks, you have to believe that at some point the pockets will run dry.

But, that certainly hasn’t happened so far and word is that the NFL and others will be seeking even more money in the future.

As ESPN continues to walk such a fine line between being an objective news gathering organization and a sports entertainment programmer, there will definitely be additional questions about objectivity and who is making the decisions on what stories to pursue and how they are handled.

This venture will definitely add another challenge for ESPN if they indeed hope to maintain the integrity that has made them the worldwide sports leader.

So, starting in September it will be “Longhorn Nation” all the time. While the programming may not always be interesting to watch, what impact it has on the rest of the nation and sports landscape certainly will be.

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