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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.

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The NFL Still Considering Multiple Offers For Sunday Ticket

The NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has not bid for the package but has stated it is willing to partner with the new rightsholder for a potential deal.

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Sunday Ticket Negotiations

DirecTV currently has the rights to Sunday Ticket. That deal expires at the end of this upcoming football season. The NFL is expected to make a boatload of cash when they decide which media organization gets the next rights to the package. The only question is… who will that be?

Alex Sherman of CNBC reports that the NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has decided not bid for the package. However, they are interested in partnering with the new rightsholder for a potential deal. DirecTV knows that Sunday Ticket is a staple in bars and restaurants and is interested in maintaining those relationships.

Outside of the bar/restaurant industry, success has been limited for the satellite provider with the football package. Fewer than two million subscribers signed up for Sunday Ticket each year which made the package a money-loser for the satellite TV provider.

According to the report, the NFL wants more than $2 billion for the rights and a stake in NFL Media, which is being packaged with Sunday Ticket. Also on the table is the NFL’s mobile rights. The league’s previous mobile agreement with Verizon has ended.

An interesting piece of the negotiations is Sunday Ticket price. According to the report, a buyer would have limited flexibility on pricing. The NFL signed contracts with CBS and Fox and within the framework of those deals, language mandates Sunday Ticket have a premium price. That’s to prevent loss of viewers from the networks that feature local market Sunday afternoon games. So essentially, the price is the price for the consumer.

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F1 Renews With ESPN For U.S. Media Rights

ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.

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F1 ESPN

The racing series F1 has decided to stick with ESPN through 2025.

ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.

The reported value of the three-year contract is set to pay F1 $75-90M per year for the U.S. media rights. Amazon had offered to pay roughly $100M per year, with the right to sublicense to a linear broadcast network. Comcast’s offer was similar to ESPN’s in terms of value and the structure. They also wanted to put select races on it’s streaming service, Peacock.

Netflix was in on the negotiations, as well. The makers of Drive to Survive, the streaming series that many credit with the sport’s explosion in popularity in recent years, wasn’t close on on their financial offer. Also, it seems F1 executives were not ready to put all of its races on a streaming service just yet.

Currently, F1 receives $5M per year for ESPN to broadcast it’s races. ESPN has grabbed about 1.0 million viewers per race. That makes F1 a more than viable option for the network to invest into again. ESPN will be able to put a small number of races on its ESPN+ streaming service exclusively. The vast majority being on ABC or ESPN.

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Skip Bayless Says He And Stephen A. Smith ‘Sorted Out’ Their Disagreement

“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”

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Skip Bayless

Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless were locked in a war of words last week following the First Take host’s appearance on JJ Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast.

The origins of their partnership were discussed and Bayless admitted he did not like the way Smith characterized the state of First Take before he arrived on set. Smith insisted that Bayless simply misunderstood what he meant by saying that he was told the show needed him.

Over the weekend, Skip Bayless says he and Stephen A. Smith got together at the Bayless home in California to talk things out in private.

“He was in LA, he came over, we sat by the pool,” he said on the latest episode of The Skip Bayless Show. “It wasn’t the easiest conversation for a while, but we slowly but surely sorted it out. We got through it, and we have been through so much together.”

Bayless reiterated that he considers Smith a brother. They love each other. That doesn’t mean they are always going to remember events the same way or see eye-to-eye all the time.

“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”

Fighting doesn’t mean the relationship is fractured. In fact, Skip Bayless was adamant that he remains closer to Smith than he is to most people in his life.

“I don’t trust easily because of the way I was raised, but I do trust Stephen Anthony Smith. Trust him with my life. Always have and always will. I trust he will always be there for me, and you better believe I will always be there for him.”

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