Oct. 26, 2011
What was your motivation for pursuing Longhorn Network?
DeLoss Dodds: We wanted to get our student-athletes exposure, and to show The University. We have a lot of kids in a lot of sports doing all these wonderful things, but nobody was able to see them. We think people will enjoy getting to know our teams like baseball, volleyball or swimming. It was our third-tier television rights. We found a way to put the content out there, just like everyone has the right to.
Where did the idea for this network originate?
Chris Plonsky: I think we’ve been actually working on this since the early 1990’s, in some shape or form. We made some critical decisions then that allowed us to pursue a network, one of which was to get a multi-media rights contract in place. At that time, we weren’t doing a lot of events on TV, and we were very dependent on our conference to expose us. When the Big 12 announced formation in 1994, we knew our footprint was going to look a lot different. That’s why we tried to stay ahead of the curve. We’ve had a digital platform through our website for years, with live events and video features. That has already provided us with a rich library of archived content to build upon.
What is the most important thing Texas fans should know about this network?
CP: The product is A-rate. ESPN is dug-in and invested for the long haul. It is going to get distributed, but it’s going to take some time. It’s worth seeing. The quality is astounding.
Has anything surprised you so far about the process of launching a network?
DD: We haven’t been as successful at explaining to the public that this is a slow-growing process, so unfortunately, you might not find it on your TV screen right away. It’s a start-up -- we’ve only been on the air since August. The Big Ten Network started slow, the Yankees’ YES Network started slow. It’s a business between cable systems, distributors and networks. The NFL Network still isn’t on Time Warner Cable. They work it out over time. It’s a process, not a one-day decision. In the end, though, we know this is something really, really good. People will enjoy it.
Can Texas fans speed along this process?
DD: The consumer drives the market. Consumers tell businesses what they want, and businesses give it to them. It’s a business transaction that’s happening right here, and the consumer has to speak so the businesses know how to react.
What have you told your coaches about Longhorn Network?
DD: Keep the student-athletes first. They have always been and always will be our top priority. And having our teams out there for people to see can only be a positive thing.
How has ESPN proven to be a good partner?
CP: They’re a good partner in every way. Look at the facilities, look at the fiber our IT team laid all across campus. Production now is plug-and-go. And just the talent they’ve hired -- the people producing this content are ESPY-winning, Emmy-award-nominee people. They have lived up to everything and beyond. They’re known as the worldwide leader in sports for a reason, and Longhorn Network is simply ESPN with a burnt orange tint.
Why is it a 20-year agreement between ESPN and UT?
CP: It’s such an incredible investment. In the past, you didn’t have conference deals running as long as they do. But the SEC did a 13-year deal with ESPN and CBS. The Fox deal the Big 12 struck in April is 13 years. When you’re doing things that have big investments, channels forming, you’ve got to have a way to monetize it over time. There wouldn’t have been a deal on the table that was less than 20 years, and this shows the commitment on both sides.
How will this network tell the stories of The University?
CP: The content five years from now that people will consider cool will be the deep, dark secrets of The University that only some of us have been spoiled to see. If you’re remote in L.A., and we can show you something that is happening at the Blanton, it’s going to be very, very neat.
How does this network strengthen the relationship between athletics and academics on campus?
DD: We’re always looking for ways to be good partners with the academic side, and I think this is a great vehicle for that. This allows us to make significant contributions to campus. At a time of reduced state funding and campus budget cuts, it helps that this venture provides about $5 million a year, for at least five years. Ten or 15 years down the road, The University should have great dividends from this.