Longhorn Network Conspiracy Party

Let’s put our tin foil hats on for a minute. As I’m certain you all have heard, ESPN and the University of Texas have collaborated to form an unprecedented television network that is already altering the very foundations of inter-collegiate athletics. The terms of the contract are absolutely staggering– 300,000,000 dollar bills over 20 years. There has been a lot of speculation, discussion, and heated argument about what the network is going to fill 175,316.255 hours of programming with. Setting aside the can-o’-worms that is broadcasting high school football games featuring Longhorn commits, there are some other promising methods for the network to generate revenue by drawing eyeballs and expanding market exposure.

Watching two UT system schools join a conference with ESPN ties amid the recent brouhaha surrounding the creation of the Longhorn Network has left a lingering question in the back of my mind: Could ESPN & the Texas Board of Regents be planning on broadcasting UT system schools’ athletics on the Longhorn Network? In all honesty, I’m surprised very few others have explored this possibility outside of our compadres at the WAC Scout board. Before we embark on these logistical gymnastics, allow me to stress that this is pure speculation. Not once has any person in any way involved with the Longhorn Network [referred to as LHN from here on out] so much as hinted at the network broadcasting other universities’ events or games. Got it? Good. Onward.

What could the LHN be planning? And why?

Jordan Shipley. Catching fish.
Being a bro. Primetime!

Obviously, this is the LONGHORN network we’re talking about here. Not the University of Texas network.  Subtle, yet telling difference. Subscribers will want to see burnt orange immersion and ad naseum Bevo ball washing. That being said, there is an overwhelming amount of time slots that this network needs to fill. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think ten hours of “Fishing with Jordan Shipley” every week is going to draw enough eyeballs to justify many cable providers to provide the LHN in markets outside of the 512. In fact, Time Warner Cable, our loving despot of the cable television monopoly in San Antonio, has neglected to offer the LHN at this point in time (subject to change). Do you think ESPN would be content with missing out on the #37 US DMA and 830,000 TV households in UT’s backyard? What about the DFW and El Paso markets where large alumni bases and UT system schools reside?

As exciting as a UT Arlington – San Jose St. hoops match up is, I sincerely doubt that the prospect of UT affiliate schools’ athletics events being broadcasted is going to cause DFW/SA/El Paso cable providers to cave in and offer the LHN, but it absolutely does not hurt ESPN/UT’s case. In the daunting task the LHN faces in filling content for the network, one can rest assured that a UTSA – Baylor football game, even a replay, will generate astronomically higher ratings than an exhilarating look at the Longhorn’s club rowing team, especially in the San Antonio and Waco DMAs. By providing content from UTSA, UTEP, and UTA, the LHN can knock out large gaps in the the broadcasting schedule while also generating appeal in a variety of markets across the state.

Sounds good, but if there’s fire there must be smoke, right?

Ah but of course! Let’s start a little timeline to document relevant events:

2007: UT begins to research the creation of a proprietary TV network

December 2008: UT Board of Regents approves the creation of UTSA’s football program

2008-2010: UTSA announces scheduling agreements with Rice, Houston, and Baylor, among others

November 2010: UTSA accepts an invitation to the WAC, a conference with an ESPN broadcasting contract

July 2011: UTA accepts an invitation to the WAC after UTSA President Ricardo Romo encourages the WAC to take a second look at the D1AA school. Rumors swirl of UTA resurrecting its now-dormant football program with revenue from recently-tapped natural gas reserves on campus. UTA prepares to open a state-of-the-art, $78 million basketball and events center.

July 2011: UTSA announces a partnership with IMG College– the same company taking 17% of the cut from the LHN revenue

Certainly all of these events are circumstantial and one would be foolish to concoct some grand ploy linking the very creation of the UTSA football program to future Longhorn Network programming fluff, but there is a  lineage of events that may suggest that somewhere along the way some entrepreneurial genius thought “Hey! We can easily create a mutually beneficial relationship to increase the exposure of our system schools while possibly drawing in more subscription monies!” Do I think the LHN is influencing Karl Benson’s WAC expansion policy? Nope. Do I think ESPN is responsible for the creation of the UTSA football program? Nah. Do I think the UT Board of Regents pressured UTA into funding a fancy basketball arena that will look sexy on the LHN at 2 am? Hell no. What I do think is that the LHN think tank is aware of the possibilities detailed above and is willing to take steps to influence the UT system schools in a manner that will benefit all parties involved and generate more compelling content for the LHN. More money in everyone’s pocket.

If ESPN and UT haven’t already discussed this brilliant idea and stumble across this blog post, email me. You guys can pay my ridiculous August energy bill and we’re straight.

About jared

A UTSA alumnus that has been cast away to Austin, Jared enjoys live music and a craft beer. He thinks four verts is the best play in football but loves a QB sneak on fourth and inches. Twitter