ESPN is making its Longhorn Network a bit more enticing for potential distributors.
LHN will televise two of the Longhorns’ first three games this fall — the Aug. 31 season opener against New Mexico State and the Sept. 14 game against Mississippi, both at Royal-Memorial Stadium, both at 7 p.m.. A third game, Texas vs. Kansas on Nov. 2, also may be carried as well; a Kansas athletic department official told the American-Statesman last week that discussions are ongoing.
But the Texas-Ole Miss matchup is arguably bigger. The Rebels, out of the SEC, are regarded as a borderline top-25 team.
ESPN is committed to paying the University of Texas $300 million over 20 years to provide content. LHN has carried five Longhorns football games the last two seasons, including three in 2012 against Wyoming, New Mexico and Iowa State.
The Longhorn Network is available on several cable and satellite systems, including AT&T Uverse. But Time Warner Cable, the largest cable distributor in Austin, does not carry it.
“While we have ongoing discussions with ESPN about a myriad of business interests, we do not have an agreement with ESPN to carry the Longhorn Network,” a Time Warner spokesperson reiterated Tuesday via email.
Television rights to Texas-Mississippi are controlled by the Big 12 Conference because it’s a Longhorns home game. ESPN’s contract with the Big 12 allows for the cable network to be carried on LHN, according to an ESPN spokesperson.
“They exercised their prerogative,” said Bob Burda, an assistant commissioner in the Big 12. “A conference game requires consent from both schools and the conference. A non-conference game does not.”
Last season, 12 Ole Miss games were carried by either CBS, ESPN, ESPNU, FSN or the SEC Network. One game was available on pay-per-view. ESPN televised Texas’ 66-31 win at Ole Miss last fall.
Fans in Mississippi could possibly have access to the Texas-Ole Miss game on local television. Last season, Iowa State’s conference game at Texas was televised by LHN, but also was made available on ABC affiliates serving much of Iowa. ABC and ESPN are owned by The Walt Disney Company.
Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said in a statement that the school is working with ESPN on a solution for Rebels fans.
“Because this is a University of Texas home game and part of the Big 12’s agreement, ESPN is not obligated to give us advance notice of the decision or provide alternatives, so we appreciate their willingness and desire to work with us,” Bjork said.
Of course, that would do nothing to satisfy Texas fans who do not receive LHN.
PAST LHN GAMES
The Longhorn Network has carried five Texas games over the past two years:
2011;Texas 34, Rice 9;101,624
2011;Texas 43, Kansas 0;99,211
2012;Texas 37, Wyoming 17;101,142
2012;Texas 45, New Mexico 0;100,990
2012;Texas 33, Iowa State 7;100,018