How the Sooners Can Beat the Longhorn Network

Nick MachiavelliContributor IIIAugust 22, 2011

How the Sooners Can Beat the Longhorn Network

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    Oklahoma should start its own TV network, the Heartland Network, to neutralize any advantage Texas gains from the Longhorn Network.

    The Big 12 conference is close to implosion since Texas revealed the details of the Longhorn Network.  The other schools are justifiably concerned about the increased power Texas will have over the conference. 

    Oklahoma has the most to lose because they are the only school in the Big 12 that can successfully compete with Texas for recruits on a regular basis. The biggest issue is the recruiting advantage Texas will get when ESPN pushes the NCAA to allow showing high school games.

    Oklahoma should fight Texas directly by launching its own TV network, the Heartland Network.

    The biggest obstacle for the Sooners is demographics; there are simply not enough people in the state to get the same type of contract that Texas got from ESPN.

    Oklahoma can get around this by finding other schools in similar situations and forming an alliance with multiple schools.

    A rival network will allow the Sooners to neutralize the advantages Texas will gain from its network.

    Here are the options for Oklahoma regarding its television rights. Leave your comments below on what you think the best option for the Sooners is.

The Heartland Network Defined

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    Oklahoma can promote its network by capitalizing on the desire for conservative “red state” programming.

    Instead of just airing a couple of high school games a year like the Longhorn Network, the Heartland Network could make that the primary programming focus.

    The Heartland Network could be the Fox News of sports programming and appeal to conservative sports fans by focusing on the supremacy of small state schools.

    The Heartland Network would be based on the concept that sports in the Heartland are more pure. They present games as a salute to small town living and values.

    The network would market itself as all American kids competing for pride, without the money and distractions of big city programs.

    Consider a reality show based on a champion small town sports program, a real life "Friday Night Lights." In addition to broadcasting the games, they will be showcasing real small towns, and the passion and pride they feel for their sports teams.

    The Heartland Network would never have a chance to reach the audience that the Longhorn Network would have in major cities. However, there are many more small towns in America, and by giving them a voice, the network could gain a wide reach.

Partner with a Satellite Provider Instead of ESPN

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    ESPN has a lot riding on the Longhorn Network and will not be eager to enter a similar contract with another school.

    Oklahoma should bypass ESPN and approach one of the satellite TV providers. ESPN obviously sees big potential in school specific programming, and a satellite provider might be ready to pay big money to get their own exclusive channel.

    Satellite providers are big in the Heartland, as many smaller markets lack the programming options from their local cable providers.

    By hosting their own network, they can use it as a marketing tool to show they understand and welcome these viewers.

    The most recent rounds of TV negotiations have shown there is an appetite for non-traditional providers to get in on college football. This is the type of bold business move that could set one satellite provider apart from its competition. 

The Heartland Network: A Multi School Partnership

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    Oklahoma does not have the pull to launch a national network on its own. However, if they find the right schools, they can join together in a lucrative partnership.

    They should look for schools that have very passionate fanbases in states without a professional sports team.

    Oklahoma should approach Nebraska as a partner. The Huskers have an enormously devoted fanbase that breathes Nebraska football. The complicating issue is the B1G Network and whether they retain enough rights to make it worthwhile. 

    Another great school would be Kansas. They could provide some excellent basketball content and give legitimacy to the channel for multiple sports.

    Arkansas, Kentucky, Wisconsin, West Virginia or North Carolina would also be excellent partners.

    A partnership between the schools would be enormously lucrative. They could share programming time for school specific shows and each broadcast a game on the network each season. 

    By placing the focus on high school sports, they will not have to give as much access to their program.  ESPN is pushing Texas to allow access to coaches meeting and private practices, which can hurt the Longhorns on game day.

Use ESPN to Get Approval

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    The biggest obstacle facing this type of network is the NCAA. In response to the Longhorn Network, they placed a moratorium on broadcasting high school games. It is still unclear if this means no live games or no video of any kind.

    Right now, ESPN has a lot riding on the Longhorn Network. They offered an unprecedented contract to Texas, but so far their investment does not seem to live up to the hype.

    The inability to show high school games leaves a big programming hole for the network. The Big 12 can also block Texas from showing a conference game on the network if it chooses.

    This leaves the Longhorn Network without two of the major features as the network is about to launch. 

    Mack Brown is also apprehensive about giving ESPN too much access to the program. He is trying to block access to coaches meetings, practices, injury reports and anything else that could give Longhorn opponents an advantage.

    These issues are taking their toll on subscriptions. They are not getting the response that they had anticipated and do not yet have a major provider for the network. They are in negotiations with multiple providers, but they might not have anything resolved before Texas plays Rice.

    ESPN will continue to leverage their power to push the NCAA to allow high school programming.  Oklahoma could use the ESPN lobbying campaign to get approval for the Heartland Network.  

The Big 12 Network Option

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    Another option for Oklahoma would to join with the other schools in the conference to create the Big 12 Network.

    The idea is that the rest of the conference could put together an attractive programming package, even without Texas. The schools would have no problems broadcasting their own games on a conference network, which could provide more content than the Longhorn Network.

    This type of network would be lucrative for Oklahoma, but not as lucrative as forming the Heartland Network.

    Forming their own network means there would be fewer teams to split the revenue with. 

    Oklahoma also does not want to elevate any of their conference rivals. As much as the Sooners complained about the unfair recruiting advantage Texas would get, they would still want to get that same advantage over Oklahoma State. 

Go It Alone: A Stand Alone Oklahoma Network

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    Oklahoma would benefit from a stand-alone network in terms of revenue and recruiting. The Sooners could use the network to showcase top recruits once the NCAA caves in to ESPN.

    However, Oklahoma does not have the national appeal to gain widespread distribution for the network. The Sooners would do well in the Oklahoma and North Texas, but nowhere else.

    A network with limited distribution would do little to slow down Texas. It would be hard for Oklahoma to gain any sort of recruiting advantage when the recruits won’t have access to the network.

    Oklahoma is in the best position in the Big 12 to launch its own network, but it is still not a great option for them.

    The Sooners would make more money launching the Heartland Network than forming a stand-alone network.

Go Digital: Online Distribution

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    If Oklahoma chooses to go it alone, they could choose an online distribution network

    Kansas State just launched its own digital network. The Wildcats will have most of the pre-game content and interviews available for free, but charge a subscription for the live games. 

    While this is still in its infancy for Kansas State, it is unlikely to generate much revenue. There are more people paying for online sports content, but it is not close to television revenue.

    Oklahoma certainly has more appeal than Kansas State, but would still generate little revenue from digital distribution.

    This would also hurt the Sooners in the recruiting battle. Texas will eventually get to showcase recruits on their network. When Oklahoma responds “check out our website,” it’s clear the schools are not on equal footing.

The Heartland Network Would Be the Best Choice

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    Oklahoma forming a network with multiple schools would be best for generating revenue.

    If Oklahoma does form a television alliance, they will have to split the revenue with multiple schools.  However, they would have a much wider distribution, and a much larger revenue pot to distribute.

    If Oklahoma takes the initiative in creating the network, they would have leverage in negotiating distribution. The Sooners should be able to negotiate a larger share of the revenue.

    Even with revenue sharing, the Heartland Network is more lucrative for Oklahoma than any of the other options.

    In any scenario, Oklahoma is unlikely to make as much money as Texas from a TV network. No matter how attractive a package the Sooners put together, Oklahoma will not be able to get to the $15 million a year mark. 

    Oklahoma needs to accept the fact that they will never be on equal footing from a financial perspective. What the Sooners can do is get equal footing in recruiting and take solace in the fact that money doesn’t guarantee wins.