Pt. 2 The Ins and Outs of the Longhorn Network

By Joe Glover
As we saw at the end of Pt. 1, we were taking a look at how much influence the University of Texas, and ESPN were going to have by getting into bed with each other.

*image courtesy of Occupy Herbstreit

But What Is It Exactly?

Okay, so obviously it’s a TV Channel, created with the idea of growing both ESPN, and the University of Texas’ brand through a partnership, but we’re talking about a public academic institution, now being able to go into bed exclusively with the self proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” to the tune of $26 Million a year for the next thirty years. But isn’t ESPN just a (Really Big) TV Network? Not hardly. Taking a look at who’s really behind ESPN isn’t hard. As it turns out, ESPN is owned by ABC, which in turn is owned by the Walt Disney Corporation. Essentially, with a well written contract, Bevo just grew mouse ears (sponsored by the Home Depot, and narrated by Matthew McConaughey).

The Writing Is On The Wall Contract

Apparently, the idea of the Big XII Conference being okay with having to listen to demands by ESPN/Disney was foreshadowed by both the school and the network as being potentially problematic. Enough so that there was built-in language into the contract in the event that Texas left the conference.

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary… in the event that UT determines during the Term, to become a member of an athletics conference other that the Big 12 Conference or not to participate in any athletics conference, UT agrees to continue to grant and provide to ESPN the Television Rights set forth in this Agreement.

So much for any notion of autonomy. In other words, if the University of Texas decided that it wanted to join the Pac-12, and the the conference said that it was conditional upon abolishing the network, ESPN would now have legal rights to block the move. Unless of course they were to join the South Eastern Conference, which coincidentally also has given the full rights to broadcasting to ESPN. The parent network also has full television rights to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and that move was predicted by the blogosphere. Does anyone really think that a commissioner from a conference that has an exclusive contract with ESPN would have the ability to tell the University of Texas to shed its own ESPN contract?

ESPN Now Controls Non-Athletic Content

Try this on for size.

The parties acknowledge and agree that the Network… will be the primary and first priority distribution outlets for all audio video distribution of UT live… All UT non-athletic content (e.g., textile department’s fashion show, classroom lectures, commencement exercises, etc.), whether Network Content or otherwise, without restriction.

That, if you’re at all confused, is the University of Texas turning over full television rights to classroom lectures, and commencement exercises to ESPN. In fact, later on in the contract it states that a full 10% of the network’s content will consist of non-athletic programming. Essentially a minimum of three hours a day will now be broadcasting classroom lectures. Think professors will feel okay criticizing anything Disney or ESPN related while having a camera directly in their faces? You can bet that department heads have already given their professors a talking to about what will and will not be allowed. If not, lets see what the contract states.

In the event that UT reasonably determines that any on-air talent does not reflect the quality and reputation desired by UT for the Network based upon inappropriate statements made or actions taken by such talent and so notifies ESPN, ESPN will cause such talent to be promptly replaced.

Well there it is. Speak out against ESPN or the University itself while on camera, and out the door you go.

Amazingly, all of this has not been the cause for the outrage. The real outrage comes from section 2.A.vii and a few choice comments how both the network and the University of Texas interpreted its content.

Section 2.A.vii

    High School Championships

UT Athletics and IMG will use their respective best efforts to assist ESPN in obtaining the rights to telecast the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Championships on the Network and the Digital Network following the expiration of the initial term of the currently contemplated rightsholder’s agreement with the UIL.

By itself, you’re not really saying anything offensive. ESPN is putting into writing that once the contract for Texas High School Championships comes up for grabs, the University of Texas will flex all possible political muscle to secure it for ESPN. Considering the amount of attention given to Texas High School Football, this shouldn’t come as a shock. But if you’ll recall from my last post, the interview that was given by ESPN-UT Vice President Dave Brown…

We’re going to follow the great [high school] players in the state. Obviously a kid like [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Johnathan Gray. I know people [Longhorn Network subscribers] are going to want to see Johnathan Gray, I can’t wait to see Johnathan Gray.

Feedback from our audience is they just want to see Johnathan Gray run whether it’s 45-0 or not, they want to see more Johnathan Gray. So we’re going to do our best to accomodate them [Longhorn Network subscribers] and follow the kids who are being recruited by a lot of the Division I schools. Certainly some of the kids Texas has recruited and is recruiting and everyone else the Big 12 is recruiting.

“One other thing, you may see us, I know there’s a kid [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Connor Brewer from Chapparal high school in Arizona. We may try to get on one or two of their games as well so people [Longhorn Network subscribers] can see an incoming quarterback that’ll be part of the scene in Austin.

What you just read, is how 2.A.vii was interpreted by ESPN executives as to what sort of power they would be able to have. If you notice though, he’s not just talking about the state of Texas. He’s also talking about dropping into Arizona to say hello to future Texas recruits, simultaneously letting the entire high school football world know that if you want to get on television in high school, you need to commit to the University of Texas.

The monopoly put into place would send shockwaves through the world of collegiate athletics.

Up next, pt.3 examines Enough is Enough

References
1. Occupy Herbstreit
2. Who Owns Whom?
3. College Gameday
4. Prediction #5
5. LHN License Agreement (Conference Realignment Pg. 5)
6. LHN License Agreement (Non-Athletic Control Pg. 4)
7. LHN License Agreement (On-Air Talent Pg. 10)
8. LHN License Agreement (High School Championships Pg. 5)
9. Dave Brown Interview
10. Matthew McConaughey

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