When the University of Texas announced its new high-profile television deal with ESPN earlier this year, competitive Sooner fans bristled immediately, wanting to know where their deal was.
"If it's good enough for those orange-clad pansies," the thinking goes, "we should have a TV deal too!"
Apparently, smarter people than you or I have been working on this for a while, as SoonerTV is scheduled to premiere sometime this fall. The real questions:
- What is the market value of an Oklahoma television deal?
- How far will it reach?
To find the answers, let's first look at the blueprint provided by the Longhorn network.
Texas' freshly minted deal is worth a reported $300 million over the next 20 years, in addition to the $20 million the Longhorns will receive from the Big 12's last-minute deal to stave off the apocalypse. To put that in perspective, the $15 million a year from ESPN is equal to the estimated value of Notre Dame's contract with NBC to televise Fightin' Irish home games.
What does that annual $15 million payout to Texas buy ESPN? One football game normally reserved for pay-per-view, a handful of basketball games, Olympic sports and coaches' shows.
According to the Sports Business Journal, IMG College negotiated the deal, which guarantees the UT athletic department $15 million a year. Beyond that,Texas and IMG will divide any excess profits.
So, what should Oklahoma expect?
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione, widely considered one of the best in the business, has been quietly prepping for this exact scenario. In the last few years, the OU media relations department and SoonerSports.com, the Sooners' official online outlet, have upgraded their broadcast equipment with the latest high-definition broadcast technology.
Already, SoonerSports.com plans to broadcast every home baseball game this season. Similar on-campus events, coaches shows and repeats of previous OU sporting events would probably make up the bulk of the OU network's programming.
OK, so, OU appears to have the infrastructure in place to launch its own network. What's it worth?
In today's market, an athletic department's value is determined by the size of its fan base and the number of TV sets that those fans and the region surrounding the school can deliver. The Texas dollar figure was so high because of that access to television sets.
Learfield Sports holds Oklahoma's media rights and would probably market a more regional distribution from Kansas City to the Dallas-Forth worth Metroplex, according to the Daily Oklahoman.
If Oklahoman writer Jake Trotter is correct, the Sooners will be looking at a half to a third of what ESPN gave Texas for its network, which works out to a check of between $5 million and $8 million annually.
Looking at the last available numbers, this new revenue stream would push OU up to near $100 million annually. That's approaching top five in the country; right where you, me and Joe C. expect our program to be.
As the arms race intensifies in the next few years, I can't help but think things are quickly escalating to a battle between "haves" and the "have-nots" – even more so than before. Schools such as Iowa State, Washington State and Wake Forest have a very limited regional following. They won't be able to compete when the individual schools' TV networks start cropping up. There will come a day when an athletic director at one of those institutions will hear from his president that they can't afford to keep up anymore.
The good news for the Sooners is that whatever happens, they've put themselves in a position to survive the meltdown and thrive in the future.
(Contact JJ Worthington at firstname.lastname@example.org.)