ESPN, UT discuss home for Longhorn network

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Sports broadcasting giant ESPN may be taking over the entire second floor of the Jesse H. Jones Communications Center Building B to house studios for its $300 million Longhorn network, said College of Communications Dean Roderick Hart.

The plan might impact the Department of Radio-Television-Film, which uses space in the CMB, one of the buildings in the communications complex. RTF production faculty are meeting to discuss ESPN’s interest in the studio space today, according to an e-mail RTF production area head Andrew Shea sent to the faculty members.

“I believe this has potential to be seen as one of the best things to ever happen to the RTF department,” Hart said. “It’s a wonderful building. To build studios of this quality today would be extraordinarily expensive.”

The 20-year deal would also give ESPN rights to Studio 6B, currently home of KLRU broadcasts and performances.

The network, which UT and ESPN announced last month, does not yet have an official name. Programing will include Longhorn sports as well as studio shows, historical programming and other academic and cultural events when it launches this summer.

Three weeks ago, ESPN representatives identified the building as a strong candidate for the studio. Legendary news anchor and former UT student Walter Cronkite once said the building was better than the CBS studio in New York.

“It is probable [the facility] will be in the CMB, which will provide optimal opportunities for faculty and student participation and learning,” said UT vice president for legal affairs Patricia Ohlendorf. “I expect we will conclude the lease document very soon.”

With the potential arrival of ESPN in the building, the biggest challenge for the RTF department would be finding a space for the all the broadcasting equipment presently housed in rooms on the second floor.

Hart said RTF classes would be spread across the communications complex at Whitis Avenue and 25th Street for the short term. Once the $50.6 million Belo Center for New Media opens in June 2012, RTF faculty will move into vacant space in the CMA.

ESPN will have its own security on the second floor and will pay for all renovations, Hart said. He said the network will bring in 75 employees, including some new hires and employees transferred from other facilities. ESPN may also hire UT students as interns to help with programming and other aspects.

“We’d love to have our students be a part of this,” said Jennifer Hammat, interim director of Texas Student Media. “Twenty-four hours of programming is a lot of programming for a day.”

Location negotiations are ongoing, but Hart said he believes UT and ESPN must agree on a location for the network by the end of the month. When President William Powers Jr. announced the deal in January, he said the network would have its facilities at the Darrel K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Nick Voinis, senior associate athletics director for communications, declined to comment on negotiations, as did an ESPN spokesman. Voinis said there will be an announcement soon.