UT, ESPN join in establishing intercollegiate TV network

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Everything’s bigger in Texas, even television contracts.

University President William Powers Jr. announced a 20-year contract agreement Wednesday between the University, ESPN and multimedia rights partner IMG to develop and launch a year-round, 24-hour television network dedicated to covering intercollegiate athletics, cultural arts, music and academics. The network is scheduled to launch in September.

“This is an extremely exciting new venture for our University,” Powers said. “We are now able to increase the exposure of our outstanding athletics programs and our first-class academic and cultural communities. This agreement provides significant new resources to enhance faculty and academic support.”

The agreement guarantees the University roughly $247.5 million, according to officials. UT is also assured at least $10 million in revenue in each of the first five years of the contract. Powers said half of the income during this period would be devoted to academic and faculty support, with the remaining funds going to athletics.

“These funds will be targeted at faculty and academic programs, including the establishment of new faculty chairs,” Powers said.

Powers said the University would create two $1 million endowed faculty chairs, one in the physics department and the other in the philosophy department.

The television deal, Powers said, is the latest example of UT’s attempts at new, creative ways to create sources of revenue.

“The situation that higher education is in will require more private-public partnerships of this sort,” Powers said.

The deal between UT, ESPN and IMG comes just more than three years after the launch of the Big Ten Network, a joint venture between the Big Ten Conference and Fox. The success of the television network — revenue doubled in less than three years — has been a driving force in other power conferences, including the Big 12 and SEC, to create similar endeavors.

But while the Big Ten was the first conference with a network dedicated to broadcasting athletics, Texas is the first university to form such a lengthy and lucrative television partnership.

The network, which has not been named, is scheduled to air more than 200 exclusive sporting events each year, including at least one football game and a minimum of eight men’s basketball contests. All home games will be covered on the network.

Women’s Athletic Director Chris Plonsky, along with men’s Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds, envisioned a UT television network several years ago, and the two were instrumental in getting a deal done.

“Only at this place, with the people that back this institution, could this happen,” Plonsky said.

Dodds and Plonsky agree that the creation of the network will provide a boost to recruiting, not only on the athletics side but also on the academic front.

In addition to sports coverage, the network will feature a range of content from campus news to music, art, and theater events at UT and in the Austin community.

“It will show the human capital side of our University that we’ve never seen before,” Plonsky said.

But the excitement and anticipation for the new network didn’t end with Powers, Dodds and Plonsky. It’s beginning to get to the coaches, too, including football head coach Mack Brown.

“Any time you can partner with ESPN on a project, you know it’s going to be first-class and that it will present unbelievable exposure opportunities for all of our sports and the University,” Brown said in a statement Wednesday. “That’s something everyone here can be really proud of.”