SEC Network launch challenges LHN for viewership, recruits

Daniel Clay

Since its launch in 2011, the Longhorn Network has flooded the UT athletic department with cash.

However, the ESPN-backed Longhorn Network frustrated the rest of the Big 12 with its lack of revenue sharing — among other things — and irritated Missouri and Texas A&M so much that, coupled with other issues, they decided to bolt for new conferences.

Texas A&M and Missouri received the revenue sharing they wanted when the SEC boosted their already prestigious position in the NCAA by launching the also ESPN-backed SEC Network on Aug 14.

The SEC Network lacks the availability concerns that dragged down the Longhorn Network for some Texas fans. Upon its launch, the new channel was available to a reported 90 million households via powerhouse providers Dish Network, AT&T, Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable, among others. 

A concerning figure for the Longhorns is the advantage in exposure the SEC Network has created over its Austin counterpart.

Fans, pundits and head coaches have all but unanimously crowned the SEC as the greatest conference in college football, and conference newcomer Texas A&M has been snatching four- and five-star recruits from the Longhorn’s traditional hunting grounds.

For a few years, Texas could pitch a 24/7 exposure to recruits driven by the prospect of stardom. However, Texas’ neighbors to the east can now pitch that same access to an even bigger audience, which has the possibility of pushing the already tipping recruiting scale further towards SEC schools.

The Longhorn Network has struggled to reach the majority of viewers within Texas, although a new carriage agreement with Dish is expected to help the issue.

Meanwhile, July estimates ranked the SEC Network the fifth largest sports network in the country with an expected 75 million subscribers and a revenue of $611 million. 

After accounting for the costs and the revenue share taken by ESPN, the estimates predicted that each of the 14 member schools will haul in around $19.6 million this year from the SEC Network and total TV revenue could balloon to $40 million by the network’s third year.

To put those figures into comparison, in 2012-2013 Texas reported $33.4 million in total royalty and licensing revenue, including the cash influx from the Longhorn Network.

The channel accounts for a huge role in Texas claiming the title of wealthiest athletic department in the country, and it helped make Texas one of the few schools that has been able to distribute athletic revenue to academics rather than the other way around.

Money has not—and should not—be a problem for the Longhorn Network thanks to the 20-year, $300 million deal ESPN signed in 2011, guaranteeing a large revenue stream to Texas Athletics. However, Florida and Alabama could dethrone Texas as the NCAA’s revenue king if things go as planned for the new network.