August 29, 2012

One year later, LHN may finally have major carrier

A source very close to the situation told on Wednesday that a deal between ESPN and AT&T U-verse to carry the Longhorn Network should be done by Friday.

The deal would give ESPN its first major carrier of the Texas-centric sports network and could put pressure on other cable and satellite providers to also carry LHN.

ESPN has agreed to pay Texas $300 million for 20 years for the rights to air the Longhorns' third-tier sports inventory (the least desirable football and basketball games as well as baseball, softball and Olympic sports.)

When I asked the source how strong the possibility was that a deal would get done between ESPN and AT&T U-verse to carry LHN, the source said, "Very strong."

The source said the deal would likely allow U-verse to carry the Texas-Wyoming game Saturday night (7 p.m. CT), which is being aired on LHN.

The Texas-New Mexico game at 7 p.m. CT on Sept. 8 is also scheduled to appear on the Longhorn Network.

I asked Texas president Bill Powers on Tuesday about LHN at a press conference with Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby if there was any movement on LHN distribution.

Powers said, "It's under very active work, and I'll leave it at that."

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds sounded more guarded.

"This is a 20-year deal. One or two missed football games is a huge deal. But the 20-year future is bigger than that. And it's worth what we're going through. It's painful for us and painful for our fans. But we are going to win in the end," Dodds said.

Dodds was asked if there had been any backlash from fans, such as a drop in donations to the Longhorn Foundation.

"That's a tough question to answer, and I do read all the emails, and we do respond to them. I think the people who are most unhappy are the ones out of state who can't come to the game and want to see the game. And I agree withe them," Dodds said.

"Our donations have gone up every year I've been here with the exception of maybe one year. But I do get four, five, six emails a day and check to see if they are season ticket holders or donors. And the large majority are those who are unable for one reason or another are unable to go to the games. And I understand their concern about it. But when we get this up and running, it's going to be huge."

According to AT&T, at the end of 2011, AT&T U-verse had 3.8 million customers and was available to 30 million households in 22 states.

Longhorn Network officials met with the media on Wednesday in Austin, and LHN vice president of programming Dave Brown said the network did 450 hours of live events from the university in the first year. LHN launched last Aug. 26.

"We covered all 20 teams. We did 900 hours of academic and cultural programming, which is 10 percent of our programming for the year," Brown said.

"The other great thing we did in year one was putting in a technologically sound infrastructure where we fiber everything and don't use any satellite at all.

"We were able to take advantage of the university infrastructure in that regard, and it just gives us tremendous video quality on the air."

LHN is set to carry the Wyoming and New Mexico football games. A third football game on LHN is a possibility, according to Dodds.

It would be either the Baylor or Iowa State games (both in Austin), although BU sources have indicated Baylor wouldn't be a part of that.

LHN dedicates 15 hours a week to football, including three, one-hour shows each week involving coach Mack Brown.

LHN does its own version of College Football Gameday for Longhorns' games. On Mondays, Mack Brown does a show called "Rewind" - looking back at the previous game.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, LHN has access to 8 periods of football practice.

On Wednesday, LHN has an "All-Access" show which Dave Brown calls LHN's version of HBO's Hard Knocks.

"That's our signature show," Dave Brown said. "We really go in and personalize all of the stories that go into preparation for a game."

Mack Brown also does a show on Thursday called "Game Plan" - looking ahead to the next game.

On Fridays there are a lot of women's soccer and volleyball games aired live.

Longhorn Network officials also announced the Texas-Wyoming game and Texas-New Mexico game will be aired on a giant wall at Republic Square in downtown Austin (422 Guadalupe).

The square will open at 6 p.m. CT before each game. Admission is free.

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