During a Tuesday press conference that included some thoughts from new Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby on the state of the conference, the Champions Bowl, and the Longhorn Network, Texas Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds dropped some actual news when he said that the network could carry a third game this season.
Texas fans are already up in arms across the internet about missing the first two games of the season -- the opener against Wyoming and the tilt against New Mexico the following week -- so another game added to the slate could spark an even more intense furor. Awesome.
However, there is another side to the equation -- getting a game later in the year would provide more time and a little bit more impetus for providers to pick up the network. Otherwise, if it doesn't happen this week or next week, and another game does not get picked up, no major deals are likely to happen until next football season, by which point complaints about the network will likely become even more onerous than discussions of the quarterback battle were during the spring. Double awesome.
There were some rumors several weeks ago that the Baylor game could end up on LHN, which was eventually shot down, making the Iowa State game the most likely to end up on the network.
So where are negotiations with only days left until the Wyoming game? Well, it's hard to say.
Back in late July, Time Warner released this statement to the Statesman:
We have not had any conversations to purchase the Longhorn Network nor made or received any proposals to purchase the Longhorn Network. We have a great relationship with ESPN and have ongoing discussions with them about our myriad business interests, but the Longhorn Network discussions are not active.
At the time, it sounded like an outright lie, as ESPN would have been derelict in their distribution responsibilities were they not talking to the biggest provider in Texas, which PB predicted would put up the network, and a carrier some believe could be the domino to open the floodgates. Yes, that is a terrible mixed metaphor. The Longhorn Network makes people do crazy things.
For their part, a talking head from ESPN said that they are indeed talking to anyone and everyone about adding the network. So they are not in fact asleep at the wheel. In the realm of Longhorn Network news, this sorta counts as a positive. Little victories, people!
The senior vice president for affiliate sales and marketing, something called a David Preschlack, said that ESPN is talking to "everybody" about the network. The problem? ESPN isn't willing to give in on the company's hardline stanch on subscription agreements, which seems to be a major sticking point for potential carriers.
One of his statements included some ominous overtones:
We're happy that we have the distribution that we have, but we're clearly not satisfied. These things take time. It took four years to get ESPN3 and ESPNU to critical mass. I'm not telling you it will take four years to get to critical mass for LHN.
Yeah, but people will read it that way, dude. And then freak out. So thanks for that.
Preschlack addressed comments like those from Time Warner:
We're talking to everybody, including Time Warner and all the big players. ... There is nothing more important that I'm working on. We are trying to secure distribution agreements exactly in line with the deals we've already cut in the marketplace.
And therein lies the issue -- unless ESPN decides to give in on their desire to secure significant per-subscriber compensation, it's likely that the Longhorn Network could once again be in a similar position next year. There's some debate about whether landing a carrier like Time Warner is ideal, or if the wider distribution for carriers like U-Verse or a satellite provider are better.
The issue for Grande, for instance, is that they can't expand into new markets easily because they need the infrastructure of cables running everywhere. A reason why I can't get LHN at my house, but PB used to have it at his old place, which was barely a mile from me. In Texas, at least, and a number of other states, Time Warner is widely available.
How does the Texas brass feel about it? President Bill Powers predictably characterized himself as "optimistic." Dodds had this to say:
I think they'll get it done. (ESPN's) John Skipper has a passion to get it done. Obviously not getting it done (before the first two games of the season) is going to impact some people, but it's a 20-year deal. It will be worth it what we're going through. We're going to win in the end.
The final sentiment from Dodds there does not seem to be on that Longhorn fans share, by and large, based on comments here, on Twitter, and on the BON Facebook page.
Dodds did add that he receives and responds to angry emails about the network, but said he only receives about six or so a day, which seems like a remarkably small number.
The message to ESPN, though, is a pretty simple one -- the Longhorn Network, as great as the productions value are, and as beneficial as it will eventually be for Texas fans when it does secure wider distribution, is basically a PR disaster right now for both ESPN and the university. Get something done. Time is running out for this season unless another game gets added. And Texas fans don't want to wait three more years.