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Can The Longhorn Network Survive?

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With last week’s story in the Raleigh News & Observer citing sources at the ACC’s league office in Greensboro saying their most conservative estimates have the conference’s new linear network injecting about $10 million per school into the league’s payout structure, now seems like a good time to ask if conference networks are all working the way leagues and broadcast partners had hoped.

Awful Announcing’s Joe Lucia has a piece up on the site asking what the long-term prognosis is for The Longhorn Network. It is a joint venture between the University of Texas and ESPN. When the network first launched in 2011, it seemed like a perfect test case. Texas was a school with a history of success in both football and basketball and had a massive fanbase. Almost from the word go there were problems. They ranged from stare downs with other Big 12 Conference members over the plans to broadcast high school football games to a lack of carriage agreements.

Lucia asks three of his colleagues what the future holds in his new piece. ESPN and the University of Texas entered into a 20 year contract in 2011. With 13 years left on that deal, Andrew Bucholtz says he expects LHN to shift to a digital product.

Making this an extra-fee option within ESPN+ would make a whole lot of sense on a lot of levels, allowing Texas fans all over the country to buy it without regard for cable provider but without the challenges of carriage negotiations. And this might also lead to a scaled-down version of LHN, where they could just run the events people care about without the need to fill a whole day of programming.

Matt Clapp isn’t even that hopeful. He says that serving a very niche audience with a product who’s quality has been on the decline isn’t a recipe for success.

But unless you’re a Texas fan, you have to be a sports nut to tuning in for a random sporting event like that, and this certainly wouldn’t be a regular thing. Additionally, so many people are cutting cable that fewer and fewer Longhorns fans are likely to have the channel. And it’s not a channel that sports bars — outside of Texas, at least — are going to put on unless requested.

It also hurts that Texas football hasn’t been a 10-win team since 2009 (and last had at least 8 wins in 2013), and the basketball program has been pretty mediocre in recent seasons despite the hiring of Shaka Smart. There’s still a lot of intrigue (with Smart coaching the hoops team and Tom Herman coaching the football team), but these haven’t been elite programs in a long while.

Clapp went on to say that he doesn’t expect the Longhorn Network to survive to the end of the contract.

Ben Koo writes that LHN may have life after the end of the initial 20 year contract if Disney decides to hang on to the Fox RSNs that it is set to acquire in that $71.3 billion dollar deal to acquire 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets.

My best guess is if Disney does end up acquiring the Fox Sports regional channels, they somehow offload the property to that division and integrate it with the Fox Sports Southwest, which oddly doesn’t have much distribution in Austin. There is a chance Austin might get an MLS team, so perhaps ESPN can start the process of adding more regional content onto the Longhorn Network and rebranding it down the road when the deal expires.

Ultimately, I don’t think ESPN wants to be paying for the overhead of that network, nor the $15 million to Texas each year, and will look for the easiest way to wind down that arrangement without drawing attention to the fact it was a really dumb idea. Sure, some type of maneuvering could allow ESPN to use LHN as a way to launch a Big 12 Network, but I think the window for that idea is closing and would require way, way, way too many people to buy in to such an idea.

So the one thing that is clear is that nothing is clear. The initial agreement expires in 2031, so we are even a ways off from negotiations on an extension.

Sports TV News

Stephen Nelson: Joining Dodgers Booth ‘Different Challenge Than I’ve Ever Had’

“If you grew up a fan of sports in Southern California, you had Vin Scully…Jaime Jarrin…Chick Hearn…Ralph Lawler…Every single night you could listen and watch broadcasting greatness.”

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MLB Network Intentional Talk co-host Stephen Nelson is joining the Los Angeles Dodgers television booth, and is slated to call at least 50 games for the franchise on Spectrum SportsNet LA in 2023.

Nelson will work games when lead play-by-play announcer Joe Davis is on assignment for national games as the lead announcer for MLB on FOX and is the network’s number two NFL announcer.

In an interview with Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Nelson was cognizant of “the weight and responsibility” that comes with working for the Dodgers.

“It’s a different challenge than I’ve ever had,” Nelson said. “If you grew up a fan of sports in Southern California, you had Vin Scully, you had Jaime (Jarrín), had Chick Hearn or you’re listening to Ralph Lawler on the Clippers. Every single night you could listen and watch broadcasting greatness … even though they weren’t teaching a class directly, I still went to their school.”

The 33-year-old Nelson will be the only Asian American play-by-play broadcaster working Major League Baseball, and he’s proud of that distinction.

“It means everything to me,” Nelson said. “To be in a position where I can help further pave the way for the next wave of AAPI broadcasters or minority broadcasters — because if you look around the sport, and sports in general, it’s pretty embarrassing, to be frank. That’s something that I do not approach lightly at all. It’s a massive responsibility.”

In 2022, Nelson worked as a play-by-play announcer for AppleTV+’s Friday Night Baseball franchise, mostly on the outlet’s “West” games, alongside Hunter Pence, Katie Nolan, and Heidi Watney.

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Sports TV News

Greg Olsen Can Leave FOX For Another Network

“When Tom Brady is ready, that chair is his.”

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Greg Olsen

Now that Tom Brady’s playing career is officially over, plenty of people are talking about what comes next. He has a contract from FOX on the table that will put him in the network’s top NFL booth when he is ready. What that means for Greg Olsen remains unclear.

Olsen has won plenty of fans this season. Last week, he told ESPN 1000 that he is a “big boy” and he “knew what he signed up for” when he was elevated to the top slot at the network alongside Kevin Burkhardt. When Tom Brady is ready, that chair is his.

Plenty have speculated that FOX could go with a three-man booth. That way the network gets the benefits of both Brady’s star power and Olsen’s ability to dissect a game.

There is another option for Greg Olsen though according to Andrew Marchand. The New York Post writer reports that Olsen can opt out of his contract at FOX and join another network if he is offered a job.

Olsen cannot take just anything. He can only pursue a job in another network’s top booth if offered. That spot is locked up for every network with an NFL TV deal currently, but it won’t be forever and Greg Olsen has proven his worth to the broadcasting world this season.

“He could end up being this generation’s Cris Collinsworth, having a long, lucrative career, despite not having played quarterback or for the Cowboys or in New York,’ Marchand writes. “People love an underdog — especially if the person delivers.”

While Tom Brady will eventually be Kevin Burkhardt’s partner, it will not happen on February 12th. FOX is sticking with Burkhardt and Olsen to call Super Bowl LVII.

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Sports TV News

Molly Qerim: Stephen A. Smith and I Have Never Had a Mike and the Mad Dog-Style Fight

“We’re definitely annoyed at each other for times. There were times when we were very, very annoyed.”

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Mike and the Mad Dog were celebrated on First Take Wednesday morning for their legendary careers. One topic that came up was their legendary fights, with host Molly Qerim saying — luckily — she’s never had that issue arise with Stephen A. Smith.

Nearing the conclusion of the episode, Qerim pointed out how ridiculous some of the arguments between Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo became, bringing up the legendary discussion about the restrooms at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.

“You guys would debate everything, even bathrooms,” Qerim said. “You really debated bathrooms.”

Francesa and Russo then discussed how the bathroom discussion led to months of silence, where they did not speak to each other outside of the show for more than five months, before Francesa’s wife invited Russo to their wedding, which eventually squashed the beef.

“Think about it. If you two (Smith and Qerim) did not get along, and for five months and you walked in here and didn’t talk to each other either before, during or after (the show),” Russo said. “That’s hard to pull off.”

“We never did that,” replied Qerim. “We’re definitely annoyed at each other at times. There were times when we were very, very annoyed.”

Francesa asked Qerim and Smith if they’d ever had “a real fight” with both immediately responding no.

Smith did note — somewhat jokingly — that he had felt “very bruised” from time to time by Qerim.

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