University of Texas to Launch TV Network

The University of Texas at Austin, ESPN and UT Athletics’ multimedia rights partner IMG College announced today a 20-year contract agreement to create what soon will be the nation’s largest 24-hour television network dedicated to covering a university’s intercollegiate athletics, music, cultural arts and academics programs.

The still unnamed channel has a target start date of September 2011 and will be the top branding asset for the university in exposure and value. The new network will be made available to cable, satellite and telecommunications distributors within state, regional and national markets. The deal also includes the possibility of other digital and broadband distribution of some events.

University of Texas at Austin President William Powers Jr. said the network agreement is an example of efforts being made at the university to “reinvent the model by which a public higher education institution does business.” It is an example, he said, of the university “seeking creative ways to generate new sources of revenue to achieve its mission and pursue its vision of leadership in American higher education.”

Powers noted that about $5 million a year, about half of the annual payment to the university, will be committed to academic initiatives. The annual commitment in the initial plan will continue for the first five years of the contract, he said, and funding for faculty support will be part of long-term planning related to the contract.

The new network will be the top branding asset for the university in exposure and value, as ESPN will pay a $300 million guaranteed rights fee over 20 years to the university and to IMG College (which in 1998 acquired the university’s third-tier sports programming rights).

“This is an extremely exciting new venture for our university,” Powers said. “With our partners, we are now able to increase the exposure of our outstanding athletics programs and our first-class academic and cultural communities. This agreement provides significant new resources to enhance faculty and academic support. These funds will be targeted at faculty and academic programs, including the establishment of new faculty chairs. We will begin this process by creating two new chairs, one in the Department of Physics and the other in the Department of Philosophy.”

IMG College, the multimedia rights partner of UT Athletics since 1998, asked permission from UT Athletics and Men’s Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds to pursue negotiations for a UT-based television network partner in fall 2007.

“We have been working with IMG to bring this television network together for several years and we are excited and proud to say it will be here soon,” Dodds said. “This network will provide unmatched exposure for our sports programs and campus academic community. ESPN is the global sports leader, and having this relationship on our campus will be special for all associated with the university. Our commitment to the Big 12 Conference allowed us to pursue this. We want to be as strong as we can be for us and the Big 12.”

High definition sports programming will include events not previously selected for broadcast by the Big 12 national rights holders.

“ESPN has been a tremendous television partner for the Big 12 Conference since its inception, and with this step, helps take our University of Texas brand to a new level of exposure,” said Women’s Athletics Director Chris Plonsky. “UT fans and alumni throughout the state and across the country will have access to some of the university’s best assets in a unique way. This will be a recruiting vehicle not just for athletics, but for UT’s academic base as well. We anticipate being able to include an entertainment side to show the dynamic cultural communities at the university and in Austin.”

A significant portion of the annual programming will be dedicated to non-athletics university programming. The network also has the goal of providing opportunities for students to get experience in production, programming and other phases of the broadcasting business.

“This network is a testament to the school’s remarkable, tradition-rich success and widespread, devoted fan base,” said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN, Inc. and ABC Sports. “We are excited to work with Texas as well as IMG on this one-of-a-kind opportunity to create a dynamic new home — both through television and broadband outlets — for all things UT, 365 days a year.”

“This agreement took a collaborative effort as Texas and IMG College remained diligent when others said it couldn’t be done,” said Tom Stultz, senior vice president and managing director of IMG College. “It all came together, and ESPN has provided UT and IMG College with an incredible opportunity. There is unprecedented interest in Texas as a property. A number of issues made this attractive and economically feasible to a number of agencies — UT’s large alumni base, the university’s international academic reputation, the consistently high quality of UT Athletics programs, the passion and loyalty toward the Longhorns brand and the number of cable and satellite TV households in the state.”