When the University of Texas partnered with sports entertainment giant ESPN back in 2011, it was a landmark moment for collegiate athletics. A $295 million deal, a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week TV channel called The Longhorn Network.
Fans celebrated, rivals pouted, and the two partners patted themselves on the back. Almost five years later, The Longhorn Network has lost $50 million and the number of viewers maybe on par with the number of victories in the Longhorn’s football season this year.
“It was conceived at a time when no one contemplated the thought that maybe the UT football team would go through a five or six year period of pure mediocrity,” he says. “They had a little perfect storm and that’s not what anybody anticipated. Though you would think the smartest minds in sports television just like farmers anticipating a drought, that they would prepare for something like that.”
Selcraig says there isn’t another university with its own channel – but UT has a reputation that few other universities can share. In 2002 Sports Illustrated put it at the top, along with Stanford, as the best college sports program in the country.
“Behind the luster of men’s basketball and men’s football, there was a wonderful athletic program that had wonderful Olympic sports and a phenomenal women’s sports program,” Selcraig says. “That, combined with being the most lucrative, athletic program in America and one of the most identifiable and marketable logos, all of that made perfect sense to ESPN and it’s hard to fault them.”
Problems started when few cable providers signed up, Selcraig says. “They had a tough first three years, and then when DIRECTV finally came on board last year, that definitely was a shot in the arm,” he says.
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.