Longhorn Network Gets First Subscriber
UPDATE 9:00 a.m.: Verizon announced Thursday morning that they will carry the Longhorn Network for its Texas subscribers. Verizon’s TV service, FiOS, is not available in Central Texas.
The University of Texas at Austin’s South Mall will greet sports media announcers from ESPN’s College Game Day Friday to kick off the launch of the Longhorn Network. It’s the first time ESPN and a university have contracted together on a TV network devoted to one school.
The Longhorn women’s volleyball game against Pepperdine at 8 p.m. Friday will be the network’s first broadcast. But that’s only if ESPN makes a deal with cable and satellite companies to distribute it.
No cable contracts have been announced so far, but the buzz is that they are coming soon.
“We kind of have two lines in the sand here. One is launch and then one is September 3rd with the football game,” said Burke Magnus, senior vice-president of college sports programming for ESPN. Magnus jokes he has distribution battle scars from past ESPN projects.
He says it’s not uncommon for these deals to be made at the last minute. But the Longhorn season opener against Rice is only a week away. And ESPN plans to make the majority of its profits from subscribers.
“Obviously that’s going to be an incredibly significant event on the network and I think we will hasten the finalization of the distributions agreements,” Magnus said.
There are 4.2 million cable subscribers in Texas. Time Warner Cable claims a big chunk of them in Central Texas. Another important distributor is Direct TV, the only content provider that lets viewers watch every NFL game. So a lot of bar and restaurant owners subscribe.
“Them taking this long to figure out where it’s going to land, leaves us in the lurch,” said Matt Dodson, owner of Cover 3 bar and restaurant. “For us being a UT-based restaurant, it’s detrimental that we get that program in here. If it doesn’t happen we’re going to miss the Rice game.”
ESPN is paying UT $300 million over the next 20 years to own and operate the Longhorn Network. ABC owns the rights to broadcast Big 12 football games. And since ESPN and ABC are sister networks, the Longhorns could have a better chance of getting national coverage.
No doubt head coach Mack Brown sees the upshot.
“I think it is an advantage for a player,” said Brown. “If he wants to get exposure nationally, he’ll get it daily. And I think that is a good thing.”
ESPN and UT announced the deal in January. Texas has had its eye on an independent network since 2007, as a way to supplement its $145 million athletics budget, the largest in the country.
“Schools have increasingly looked at developing market share and branding themselves,” said Richard Southall, a sports administration professor at the University of North Carolina. ”University athletic departments are viewing themselves much more in the same way that professional franchises do.”
Southall said eventually most universities will claim a solo network.
ESPN says they’ve talked to the University of Oklahoma about a Sooner Network.