Texas coach Mack Brown revealed his latest theory yesterday behind his team’s struggles. Mack has seen Bevo’s enemy, and it is us – or them.
In sum, Mack says his program is “overexposed.” The Longhorn Network is broadcasting Texas’ secrets out to the college football world. If that’s not bad enough, he’s spending too much time filming shows and segments for the network and not enough time coaching. (Must... resist... urge... to... snark.)
Mack is right to be worried about the LHN, but not for the reasons that he thinks.
Texas athletics has become a high-profile joint venture between the Lone Star State's flagship school and ESPN, the world's dominant purveyor of sports entertainment. It’s amateur (wink, wink) athletics’ version of “The Truman Show,” and every decision made by Texas’ athletic department has to be viewed through the prism of Nielsen ratings.
Unfortunately for Mack, people aren’t tuning in for volleyball. Access to his team is the LHN’s most precious commodity. Coaches shows, practices, behind-the-scenes footage, a handful of live games – that’s the lifeblood of the network. ESPN knows that as well as anyone; the Texas administration does, too. That’s why all that access is written into their $300 million contract.
It’s generally not good business for someone in Brown’s position to so publicly criticize one of your employer’s major partners. But unless the suits in Bristol take Mack’s complaints personally, do they really care? They know that Texas' football coach has no choice but to get on board if the school wants to see the network succeed.
Which brings us to an even bigger problem for Mack regarding the LHN: UT football is far from must-see TV right now.
The Longhorns currently sit at 5-2. They suffered a humiliating loss to rival Oklahoma two weeks ago and at times have appeared inept on both sides of the ball. For UT’s proud fan base, it hasn’t been the kind of season that you want all-day cable access to.
Even for the most powerful brand in college sports, the LHN already has a limited target audience. A football team that is perpetually 8-5 or 9-4 won’t generate the level of demand needed to entice cable providers to sign up.
Maybe it really is a Catch-22: You can’t sell the LHN without a good football team, but you can’t have a good football team with the LHN. (Don't think Mack's criticisms won't cross the minds of potential coaching candidates in the future.) But after sacrificing a lot of goodwill to get the LHN off the ground, does that sound like an idea DeLoss Dodds would be willing to accept?
Mack may still enjoy enough support from the right people around Austin to keep his job for now. At some point, though, the business realities of what it takes to sell the LHN will have to set in.
In other words, if Texas doesn’t start winning soon, “The Mack Brown Show” is facing cancellation.