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This past Saturday provided a perfect window into the ongoing battle for the hearts and mind of the football crazy state of Texas. On one side stood the Texas Longhorns and on the other stood the Texas A&M Aggies, each of whom adopted different strategies to grow their brand going forward. Texas gambled that the Longhorn Network would make its program a national brand while A&M gambled that wedding its program to the SEC would provide a larger benefit.
Saturday provided an intriguing examination of the two paths: The Texas Longhorns played an eleven in the morning kickoff against Iowa State in front of a miniscule television audience on the Longhorn Network. Later that day, at 2:30 central, Texas A&M kicked off against the top rated Alabama Crimson Tide nationwide on CBS. While virtually no one could see the Texas game, the A&M game became the second highest rated football game of the season, behind only last week’s Alabama-LSU game.
Today news trickled out about the ratings in individual markets. The state of Texas featured three of the top 12 highest rated television markets in the country for A&M at Alabama. Which Texas city had the highest rating in the state? Austin, which posted a 16.3 rating, the third highest rating in the entire nation. (Dallas and Houston were a robust 10 and 12, respectively).
Remember when Texas athletic director Deloss Dodds said before the season that Texas A&M and the SEC “have a small sliver of the east side?”
Well, he was completely wrong.
The SEC and Texas A&M already have a massive slice of Texas, including the city that the Longhorns call home.
While residents of Austin have reacted with indifference to the Longhorn Network, they’ve embraced the Aggies in the SEC wholeheartedly.
A&M’s gamble to hitch its wagon to the SEC has already paid off.
Meanwhile Texas’s gamble to launch its own television network has been an abject failure. How much of a failure? Do you know what the Longhorn Network contributed to Texas athletics in its first year? $3.9 million dollars. We know this thanks to the documents posted by the guys at The Midnight Yell.
The total take for the University of Texas was just $7.9 million. (The funds are split 50/50).
So the Longhorns pay Mack Brown over a million dollars more a year than their athletic department makes off the Longhorn Network.
Launched with much attention, the Longhorn Network has been all hat, no cattle.
It’s easy to blame ESPN for the Longhorn Network’s failure, but that’s not actually fair. See, Texas had made up its mind that the Longhorn Network was a necessity. If ESPN hadn’t bought the Longhorn Network then Fox or NBC probably would have ponied up the money and brought the channel to life. The Longhorn Network was simply the pound of flesh that Texas extracted from its Big 12 brethren to ensure that Texas remained in the conference. ESPN paid the money for the Longhorn Network to keep someone else from landing Texas — and also to ensure that the Big 12 remained intact. ESPN made a calculated business decision that protected its interests and kept its competitors from snagging Texas. What’s proven to be true is that no matter who launched the Longhorn Network it would have been a total disaster. If anything, ESPN has actually been more successful than the other partners would have been.
What’s worse, the Big 12 didn’t remain intact. Nebraska and Colorado and Missouri and Texas A&M all left for greener pastures.
In their wake Texas started the Longhorn Network.
But here’s the rub, the four schools that left the Big 12 are actually going to do better financially than Texas is with the Longhorn Network. Think about this for a minute. Yes, the Longhorn Network has been a tremendous success. But only for the schools that left because the Longhorn Network was being started. Texas fans should actually be furious with their leadership for misjudging things so badly.
In today’s multimedia era, it’s not about where the games are aired, it’s about whether people want to see the games.
What Texas A&M has already learned is that SEC fans consume all SEC products. That’s because the SEC is following the NFL’s model, where you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Even Texas fans aren’t demanding the Longhorn Network. And there isn’t a single person who isn’t a Texas fan that has even watched the Longhorn Network.
It’s the games, stupid.
Texas gambled otherwise, that the Longhorn brand mattered more than the teams that Texas was playing on its network. Texas thought that its fans would demand the channel be carried by their cable providers. Instead, no one has really cared.
So far Texas has been completely wrong about the Longhorn Network’s appeal. What’s worse, they’ve been completely wrong and they’re devaluing their brand in the process, making it even harder for kids to experience their product. The Longhorn Network was supposed to be a recruiting tool. Only no one can see it. More kids in the state of Texas watched A&M play at Alabama on a single Saturday afternoon than have seen a game or show on the Longhorn Network since its launch. The Longhorn Network was supposed to make it rain on Texas athletics, instead it’s providing a light trickle, just $3.9 million dollars this year, not even enough to pay Mack Brown’s salary. (The coming SEC Network, by the way, is going to be a 500 year flood). In fact, the Longhorn Network is such a drag on Texas that the only people watching it are opposing coaching staffs who are using it to scout Texas’s players. It’s gotten so bad for Texas that even Mack Brown is complaining about the network. “I didn’t ask for it,” Brown said recently. “We were given a deal we had no input in.”
Turns out the Longhorn Network is a lemon, if it was a car, the buyer would be able to return it and get his or her money back.
But instead the Longhorn Network is here to stay.
And be watched by no one.
Yesterday on our 3HL radio show here in Nashville former Texas safety Michael Griffin, a really good guest and current Titan, told us that he probably would have gone to A&M if the Aggies had been in the SEC when he committed to schools. “You’d get to play against the best and stay in Texas? Who wouldn’t be interested in that?”
With Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Manziel likely to be together for at least three more seasons in the SEC, it’s a question that lots of Texas kids have to be asking as well. Why would I go to Texas where no one will see my games when I can go to A&M and play in the SEC in front of the entire nation? Whether the Longhorns will admit it or not, we know they’re watching the Aggies and envying the national attention the program is receiving.
It’s still early in Texas, but so far the Aggie move to the SEC is trouncing Texas’s decision to start its own network.
But you don’t have to take my word for it.
You can just check the television ratings in Austin, Texas.
Turns out the SEC’s small sliver of east Texas includes the Texas Longhorn’s own campus.
DeLoss Dodds thought he could make Texas a national program. Instead, in reaching for the nation, he lost his own state.