Ah, the past. They were simpler times. Sports were played by young men for the love of the game and coached by giants who cared more about character development than athletic achievement. Yes, let's go back, all the way to August 26, 2011.
That is the date that the Longhorn Network launched. For those unfamiliar, the Longhorn Network has been argued both as the thing that drove the Big 12 apart and kept the Big 12 together - arguments which both have some validity. Without the promise of riches of their own network, it is much more likely that the UT Athletic Department would have joined forces with the rampantly growing Pac 12, taking a few programs with it and leaving the rest to fend for themselves. While Missouri and Texas A&M may have ended up in the same place they are now, it is (highly) questionable that Baylor would be in the highest tier of football conferences in this alternate history.
At the same time, without the Longhorn Network, it is possible that there would be no straw that broke the Aggie/camel back and the Big 12 as we knew it formerly would largely be in place. For Aggies, Tigers, and much of the rest of the conference, the Longhorn Network was the perfect crystalization of the pride, selfishness, and single mindedness of THE University of Texas. While the other conferences were banding (their third tier rights) together to create conference-wide cable channels, UT would look out only for itself and insist on a conference payment structure that facilitated that. It was not enough for UT to partake in the bounty of exploding television revenue across college sports; it insisted that it had to be making more than any of its conference mates. Not content with tipping the financial playing field, UT/LHN attempted to tip the recruiting playing field as well by announcing plans to broadcast Texas High School football games.
Today, we get an update on how this revolutionary gamble has played out for UT and ESPN from Clay Travis at Fox Sports. And, well, take it away Clay...
Given that ESPN has guaranteed Texas in the neighborhood of $15 million a year and the costs to launch and run the network were substantial, this also means ESPN has lost money every year the Longhorn Network has existed. Those losses likely run into the tens of millions of dollars so far.
That is, by virtually any measurement, a disaster. What could have possibly caused this level of failure?
It's the programming, stupid. ESPN and Texas gambled that a couple of football games, a bevy of other less popular sporting events, and rabid coverage of their local team would be as popular as oil in the Lone Star state. The problem was this -- even the most diehard Texas fan can only watch so many softball games and swim meets.
Who could have foreseen that a cable network which relied on the third tier TV rights of one school would have trouble finding enough content? I mean, besides everybody who doesn't shower in burnt orange gatorade. Of course, the argument from those in the burnt orange brigade was that a woeful product was a tolerable embarrassment to the UT Brand because it was just so darn profitable. Today we find out the details of how far from reality these projections were.
If only there were some available comparator that could lend insight as to what it looks like when a conference's members all row in the same direction...
Indeed, the biggest irony of the Longhorn Network is this -- in deciding to create its own channel Texas made much more money for two Big 12 schools who left for the SEC, Texas A&M and Missouri, than it's going to make for itself. That's because both Texas A&M and Missouri stand to make much more money off the SEC Network than Texas will ever make off the Longhorn Network. Nebraska, in the Big Ten, will also be making more television money than Texas.
Of course, there are no worthy comparators, no true equals to THE University of Texas - just a ragtag group of scoundrels trying their hardest not to tell you, "I told you so!"