Our buddy John Ourand at Sports Business Journal has some nice new for Sooner fans, reporting that the University of Oklahoma is closing in on a deal with Fox Sports to launch its own cable network.
The network would hold "third-tier" broadcast rights, which in the parlance of the biz means the least-appealing football game on the schedule in a given year, a handful of hoops for both sexes and the Olympics – er, Olympic sports.
Once the terms of the deal are set, don't expect anyone in the OU athletic department to be popping any bubbly, unless it's reasonably priced. As would be expected, Ourand says Fox will pay the Sooners far less than the mega-deal that the University of Texas received from ESPN for $300 million over 20 years.
Also, unlike the Longhorn Network, there will be no OU-branded channel in and of itself. Instead, Fox's regional networks will air at least 1,000 hours of programming from OU's network annually, according to Ourand.
Based on the details sketched out in the SBJ article, OU's stand-alone network sounds a bit more like what observers expected when Texas started talking about its own university-branded net. That, of course, was before the Worldwide Leader swooped in with its stunning offer to the Longhorns.
Clearly, OU won't have as robust of a product as the 24-hour LHN in terms of content volume and production values. On the other hand, the deal with Fox eliminates the distribution headaches that the LHN is currently facing. As soon as it's ready to rock, the network will have carriage in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. In other words, OU's net may not be as spiffy as the LHN, but at least people will have access to it.
Conference Realignment Implications?
All things considered, the parameters of this deal are about as good as OU could have hoped for. (There's still the matter of how much Fox will be paying for all this Sooner TV, obviously.) However, OU's potential deal could cause problems for the Big 12.
The birth of the LHN severely diminished the value of a potential Big 12 net shared by the entire conference. If this deal between OU and Fox is consummated, it would likely drive a stake through any hopes of creating a conference-wide TV network.
For now, that won't mean much for conference stability. The other Big 12 schools besides Texas and Oklahoma lack appealing alternatives. But what if another league decides in the future to step up and offer those other eight schools the opportunity to monetize their third-tier rights?
There's also the matter of competitiveness. If the current structure of the league leads to a widening of the gap between OU and Texas and the rest of the league, it won't help the Big 12's perception nationally.
Bottom line: This deal sounds nice for OU, but it still feels like a case of making the best of a bad situation from the standpoint of conference affiliation.