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TMCNet:  Tulsa World, Okla., John E. Hoover column

[November 14, 2012]

Tulsa World, Okla., John E. Hoover column

Nov 14, 2012 (Tulsa World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- These are hard times for the Longhorn Network.

Texas paid tribute to coaching lion Darrell Royal during a game against Iowa State last weekend. Despite the cool factor of the 'Horns opening their first possession in the wishbone formation and then throwing a double-pass for a big play, and despite Texas winning its fourth in a row after losing badly to Oklahoma, the game itself was seen by virtually no one because UT previously had chosen to telecast the Iowa State game on LHN.

Just a few hours later, rival Texas A&M scored a seismic upset victory at No. 1 Alabama that was witnessed by almost every college football fan not sitting in a stadium.

Most notably, the Aggies' 29-24 triumph was well-viewed in Austin, drawing a 16.3 rating.

That means 16.3 percent of all homes in the Austin television market were tuned into the Aggies' single-most galvanizing football game maybe ever.

The Austin market rating was the third-highest in the nation, behind Birmingham, Ala., (47.5) and Knoxville, Tenn. (24.3).

Dallas' viewership of A&M-Bama ranked 10th nationally (11.8). Houston's was 12th (10.1).

Furthermore, it was the second-most viewed game of the college football season, behind last week's Alabama-LSU game.

These facts are huge.

Back on May 31, when Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds spoke to reporters at the Big 12's spring meetings in a small conference room at the InterContinental Hotel in Kansas City, Mo., he acknowledged a question about the Southeastern Conference expanding its footprint into the Lone Star State by saying the SEC "had a sliver down the east side," meaning A&M fans from Houston to College Station.

But millions of folks glued to their sets in Austin, Dallas and, of course, Houston, is a bit more than a sliver down the east side.

That's not all.

Reports surfaced this week that Texas actually was paid revenue of just under $8 million for its ESPN-driven Longhorn Network during fiscal year 2011-12. That money is split equally between the athletic department and a fund that goes to the university, almost $4 million each.

That's not bad, but it's not what Dodds had projected in a 2011 interview with the Tulsa World: $6 million per year for both the school and the athletic department. (Some of the shortfall is prorated, and there remains great potential for future earnings increases.) The hard part for Texas is that while LHN continues to negotiate for a broader audience, Texas cable companies and national satellite carriers remain unwilling to either absorb the costs or pass those added costs on to their subscribers.

Only small cable companies sprinkled throughout rural Texas and a narrow distribution of satellite/broadband customers can actually watch LHN programming. (Saturday's game was distributed via alternate cable outlets in Iowa.) Meanwhile, the Aggies are the darlings of college football.

They have an unforgettable quarterback (Johnny Manziel) with a Hollywood nickname (Johnny Football), a likable and daring coach (Kevin Sumlin) and the most memorable victory of the 2012 college football to date.

The A&M brand is now seen worldwide thanks to the SEC's massive deals with cable colossus ESPN and broadcast giant CBS.

The Aggies, torqued by what they feel is an arrogant self-indulgence of the Longhorn Network, quit the Big 12 to get out of Texas' shadow.

It seemed to many like a bad decision, a hasty decision, a decision that would leave the middling Aggies in a competitive football grave in the mighty SEC.

But when departed Colorado and Nebraska partnered up with big-money conferences where the television revenue was shared equally, it showed A&M brass that such a monumental decision -- "a 100-year decision," president Bowen Loftin called it -- could also be a lucrative decision.

And now, thanks to Sumlin and Manziel, a scrappy roster and an energized fan base, it looks like the ideal decision.

The Longhorn Network still has long-term potential. But think about the immediate future, and how current events tend to shape things years down the road.

LHN was conceived as a recruiting tool more than anything, for the football team as well as other sports and the university in general.

But as long as LHN remains hidden -- in Texas, no less! -- and as long as Sumlin and Manziel keep producing entertaining and winning football, more and more of those prized recruits will become enraptured by the A&M product.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby called the Longhorn Network "the 800-pound gorilla." An elusive gorilla, it seems, and one that big-game hunter Johnny Football may have in his crosshairs.

___ (c)2012 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at www.tulsaworld.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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