So much has happened in the world of college athletic conference realignment that ALDLAND’s coverage of the fluid, polycentric topic has all but fallen off, and it’s easy to forget what started all of this. Yes, last year, TCU had planned to jump to the Big East next year in order to secure that faltering conference‘s automatic BCS bid, and yes, Conference USA, the Big East, and the ACC had adjusted their jocks in recent years resulting in inconsequential shifts between Boston College, Miami, Louisville, and Cincinnati, and the Big Ten and Pacific 10 each had made minor additions, but it was Texas A & M’s move that represented the first falling domino on this American Fall that saw the Aggies loosed from the oppressive, yet apparently failing, bonds of the Big XII, the tumbling of the Big East‘s old basketball regime, TCU’s reversal of course, and about a billion other related stories. And the hand that pushed that first domino belonged to ESPN’s Longhorn Network.
As Deadspin reports, however, the catalytic network is fairly impotent when it comes to actual television broadcasting as, after launching two months ago, LHN still isn’t on anybody’s tv set:
It was two months ago today that we ran a sky-is-falling story on ESPN’s Longhorn Network going live without having lined up cable companies to actually broadcast the channel. We thought that was just last-minute posturing and ESPN’s muscle would get the deals done before long. But here we are, halfway through the season, and it’s still a channel without a home.
Awful Announcing has a good breakdown of the problems, which start with the one major cable provider in the fold not having much of a presence in Texas itself[:]
“The most glaring issue is outside of the Texas fan-base, there just isn’t a lot of interest in the channel and in fact the mere existence of the network has more than likely hurt the brand of Texas nationally more than it’s helped it. The idea that an entire network can be propped up by two shitty football games has cable providers holding the line knowing the implications of giving in.
“Also working against LHN is the fact that ESPN is their distribution partner. You’d think that this would only help adoption of the channel but my take is that ESPN has bullied the entire industry for quite awhile. This is really the only time where operators actually have leverage and can potentially keep it as an ace up their sleeve for future negotiations on other ESPN/Disney talks.”
This situation can’t continue indefinitely. The Big Ten Network suffered through the same growing pains, with most cable companies only agreeing to carry it in its second year of existence, but that was amid public demand. With no one clamoring for the Longhorn Network in their home, it’s still likely that by next year the network’s footprint will be national: but not at the price ESPN wants to charge to carry it.
From the beginning, it felt like the Worldwide Leader had bit off a bigger bite of Texas rawhide than it could chew, but LHN is starting to look like a Tejas-sized broadcast failure that no one will notice because no one’s ever seen it and ESPN won’t report on it.