Limited game coverage by LHN causes frustration

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UT alumnus Matt Portillo will watch Saturday’s football game against Wyoming from the Texas Exes Etter-Harbin Alumni Center. Although great company is an attraction, Portillo is not going there for the company. He is going because it is one of the few places in Austin to watch the game.

Longhorn football fans without tickets or a subscription to cable providers carrying the Longhorn Network will not be able to watch UT’s first two football games against Wyoming and New Mexico.

Although frustrations are high, Austin fans are in luck. LHN announced Wednesday it will host free viewing parties for both games at Republic Square Park, located at 422 Guadalupe Street in downtown Austin.

Friday morning, officials announced AT&T UVerse will carry the LHN in time for the football game against the University of Wyoming, and UVerse's almost 6 million sbscribers began seeing the channel in their program guides. Until the UVerse deal, LHN was only offered on Grande Communications, national provider Verizon FiOS and many other smaller providers like Austin’s Consolidated Communications and Houston’s En-Touch Systems.

Portillo, who was a student last year when the first game was also shown exclusively on LHN, said the students most affected would be alumni living far away who can’t attend viewing parties or watch the game on campus. Texas Exes hosts tailgates for all home games and will get coverage directly from the stadium, not LHN.

“I feel like we’re at the point now where we almost need to start asking, ‘Is the Longhorn Network doing more harm to the University’s brand than good?” Portillo, a Texas Exes member, said. “I know it is a 20-year contract, but it seems to be costing us more, and it’s not strictly monetary.”

Apart from offering fans an opportunity to watch the first two games, LHN has released no further information on when the UT community can expect wider distribution. Kristy Ozmun, a spokesperson for LHN, said ESPN is having active discussions with all cable providers. Last week Ozmun said she could not comment on a timetable for negotiations.

Matt Murphy, Grande Communications president, said his company decided to sponsor viewing parties because they are aware the company has somewhat limited coverage in Austin. Murphy said Grande covers near 25 percent of the city and provides service to the UT area, including the residence halls, and is looking to expand during the next three years.

He said carrying the Longhorn Network has helped business at Grande.

“It is certainly a plus for us, because our competition doesn’t have it,” Murphy said. “But for UT and Longhorn Network, more distribution is better. They’ve been a great partner and we want them to succeed.”

Launched August 2011, LHN is a 20-year partnership between UT and ESPN. For the first five years, 50 percent of net right fees from LHN will go toward academic initiatives, according to Texas Sports.

Some endowed academic chairs have already been created by this agreement. All on-campus residence halls carry LHN, paid for by student fees.

UT President William Powers Jr. and athletics director DeLoss Dodds were scheduled to give a five-minute LHN status update to the UT System Board of Regents last week. However, plans changed at the last minute, and the board took the update off the agenda.

At the meeting, Powers told The Daily Texan that talking about ongoing negotiations could cause potential harm and said he would update the regents at a later time. He said ESPN is dedicated to getting wider distribution.

“We want the widest distribution for fans,” Powers said at the meeting. “We have a great partner in ESPN and this is job one for them.”

At his weekly press conference, UT head football coach Mack Brown said he has become more comfortable with LHN and its involvement with Texas football during the past year. Brown is currently doing three one-hour shows on LHN.

“I don’t have anything to do with the sales of it or where it’s going, but like the large number of our fans, I’ll be happy when it gets greater distribution.”

Ryan Kelly, a Time Warner Cable spokesperson for Central Texas, said although Time Warner has a great relationship with ESPN, LHN negotiations are not active, and the company has no plans to carry LHN. All Time Warner Cable programming is distributed nationwide to more than 15 million customers.

“As expected, we’ve had inquiries about the LHN which coincides a lot with college football season, but right now the overall volume remains light,” Kelly said.
The Longhorn Network will broadcast Texas v. Wyoming Saturday at 7 p.m.

Story updated to incude current information about the LHN deal with AT&T UVerse: 11:30 p.m. 8/31/12

Additional reporting by Chris Hummer.

Printed on August 31, 2012 as: "Limited coverage causes frustration"