ESPN failed to launch regional sports networks when the market was ripe. Recently, it has tried to avoid making the same mistake with locally targeted Web sites. Now, it may look to persuade multiple universities to launch their own sports networks.
ESPN said it has a 20-year deal with the University of Texas and marketing arm IMG College to operate a 24/7 (still-unnamed) network dedicated to UT. Content will include the exclusive broadcast of at least one UT football and eight basketball games a year.
Included in the deal is the launch of a broadband offering covering Texas high-school sports from El Paso to Beaumont, including football and basketball.
The UT channel will debut in September, presumably with wall-to-wall coverage of the UT football program's journey back to respectability after a miserable 2010.
ESPN said the channel will include a slew of women's basketball games, which will make up many of the 200-plus events a year on the network. They will also be in the "Olympic sports" segments, including softball and track and field. In addition, a broadband offering will include the coverage of live events when two take place at once.
Like the Big Ten Network, the UT channel will have programming focused on "academic and cultural happenings" at the university, ESPN said.
The University of Texas has an agreement with the Big 12 Conference, where its teams compete, allowing it to have its own outlet. Not all conferences would allow a single school to do that, although ESPN may look to try a similar arrangement elsewhere.
Earlier, ESPN ceded the ground on the regional sports networks to Fox Sports Net and others. Thus, it would not want to miss out if there is a trend in university-dedicated channels. Perhaps having learned from the regional sports loss, ESPN has launched dedicated Web sites covering sports in five markets.