Posted by Adam Jacobi
In the wake of the Texas announcement that it had cut a deal with ESPN to start a UT sports channel, it would be natural to wonder what this means for the future of the Big 12. Sure, Texas reiterated its commitment to the Big 12 when it announced its deal, but it's one thing to commit to a conference and quite another to do so while setting up an annual $15 million deal for lower-level television rights.
This, in effect, forces the other nine conference members to re-assess their situation with television revenue. In response, Oklahoma officials quickly set forth to announce preliminary plans for OU's own sports channel, and while it's not even close to a done deal, it's clearly something they've been working on for a while already:
“That’s our goal,” OU senior associate athletic director Kenny Mossman said.
“I wish I could tell you exactly when,” Mossman said. “But we’ve worked on it long enough and have enough of an idea of what our model will resemble that we feel confident we’ll be launching something in the not-too-distant future.”
Mossman said he didn’t think OU’s model would be the same as Texas’ — one independent network providing all the content — but said, “that’s not inconceivable.”
Oklahoma's plan would likely involve Fox Sports or ESPN for content and Cox Cable for distribution, according to the article.
The problem the channel faces is that distribution, however. In terms of population, Oklahoma isn't exactly Wyoming, but it isn't exactly Texas either; it has about 3.7 million residents, which makes it basically the median of Mississippi and Alabama (two states that also feature two main college sports teams). And while Oklahoma most certainly "moves the needle" as far as television ratings go, getting an Oklahoma-centric channel with third-tier rights (like those given by Texas in its deal) picked up by any cable carrier outside the state lines is going to be more of a challenge than it's worth. The Oklahoma-Texas rivalry is heated enough to begin with. When Oklahoma comes to the cable companies looking for carriage fees (which, in turn, will affect Texas residents' cable bills), the rivalry becomes financial, and whenever pocketbooks come into play, politics aren't far behind.
Still, by the sound of it, Oklahoma isn't going to monopolize nationally relevant sporting events, so this shouldn't affect the conference's upcoming television deals in any material fashion. That's key for the health of the Big 12; if Oklahoma or Texas started looking for second-tier rights and undermining larger agreements, there's a problem, but we're not at that point.