All That and a Bag of Mail: How Big of a Disaster is the Longhorn Network?

Published on: June 22, 2012 | Written by: Clay Travis

Our beaver pelt trader of the week is easy this week.

We've got multiple winners -- it's the old guys in charge of college football -- Mike Slive, Jim Delany, Jim Swofford, DeLoss Dodds, and Chuck Neinas.

As I wrote yesterday, we all owe them a debt of gratitude for the way that the've brought together a four-team playoff.

And we also have LeBron James, NBA champion.

Now we're off and running to the mailbag.

And let's begin with video props to LeBron James on winning his title.

How did he throw the haters out? By wearing a Lebron vampire shirt and rapping with LMFAO.

God, this vampire shirt is awesome.

I polled y'all on Twitter to ask who the next LeBron is, i.e. the player that the media gangs up on for not winning a title. The most common responses were: Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard. Also, some of y'all said Tebow.

Really.

@bradloganCA writes:

Which network is awarded the rights for the college playoff? How much money? A possibility of bidding each game, not a package?

I think college football's playoff will sell for at least $500 million a year. You can see my math here.

That's up from around $160 million a year presently, so we're talking about at least a tripling in the rights fees.

In talking with multiple sources who will be involved in this bidding, I'm hearing that the playoff package isn't substantial enough to break up. That is, it's too hard to sell advertising packages for this few of games. In other words, you couldn't sell one semifinal game very easily to advertisers, they want to buy the whole college football package, not one semi-final game.

I think there are only three real bidders. ESPN is the clear favorite, Fox is number two, and Comcast/NBC is number three.

@camby1506:

Who will have a better first year Mizzou or Texas A&M?

Great question.

The schedules are actually pretty similar -- both teams have two guaranteed bought wins and two more should-be wins that could be tricky out of conference. In particular, Mizzou's out of conference is pretty damn tough. The eight SEC games break down pretty similarly. For Mizzou I look at it like this: Tigers will be definite favorites over Vandy and Kentucky. But that's it. They have a toss up game on the road at Tennessee and at home against Georgia -- by toss-up I mean spread will be between -3 and 3 -- and then four games that I expect Mizzou to be underdogs in by at least 3.5 points -- at South Carolina, Alabama, at Florida, and at Texas A&M.

So I think Mizzou's win total will be between six and eight. Take it in the middle there and I predict 7-5, 3-5 in the SEC.  

As for Texas A&M in the SEC, I see the Aggies favored against Ole Miss and Mizzou with toss-up games against Florida and Arkansas -- again the spread is between -3 and 3 for toss-up games, or a field goal or less -- then I see the Aggies underdogs against LSU, at Auburn, at Mississippi State, and at Alabama. 

But the Aggies won't be substantial underdogs at either Auburn or Mississippi State, I'm guessing something like -4. And the Aggies won't be substantial favorites over Mizzou, I'm guessing 3.5 or so.

So my thought on A&M is four out of conference wins -- although that Thursday night road game at Louisiana Tech scares me, what the hell were y'all thinking? -- and then three or four conference wins. 

That means I see A&M at either 7-5 or 8-4. 

I'll also predict 7-5 for A&M, 3-5 in conference. 

So I guess I'm pushing here. 

But if I had to pick one, I'd go with A&M winning more in its first year. 

Having said all this, you can construct a scenario where Missouri beats Georgia to start the season, takes off on a roll and manages to get to 6-2 or 5-3 in conference -- which is entirely possible -- and wins the SEC East. There is no chance that Texas A&M could win the SEC West. Zero. So I like Mizzou's first year SEC schedule more than I do A&M's. 

@marcusshaw writes:

What are your thoughts on Bleacher Report potentially selling for $200 million? Would you sell out OKTC?

First, if that happens, congrats to the Bleacher Report founders. They've worked their asses off and I'm always going to root for anyone in sports media who creates something from nothing.

Second, OKTC isn't worth anywhere near that money so I don't see that happening anytime soon. Maybe, ever. Our advertising model is going well and I have complete creative and editorial control, something that hardly any writers have on the Internet. That matters to me.    

Third, our models are different. The Bleacher Report's model is to give you oodles of content, some of which is good, much of which is not. 99% of the content they produce you can't connect with the writer who produces it.  

My model is to give you one or two good things a day that you know has been either written by me or vetted by me. Right now the market rewards the business over the writers. That is, the Huffington Post and Bleacher Report are both making hundreds of millions of dollars off other people's labor. It's a great business model, but it's not a great model for writers who are trying to make a living off their work. In fact, what the business market is basically saying is we don't care at all about the writers who produce the content, we just want content machines. And many people on the business side will argue that there are very few writers whose work drives enough traffic to justify a substantial wage. From a purely numbers perspective those business guys are correct.

Bleacher Report could sell for $200 million and never have paid any writer more than $100,000 a year. In fact, Bleacher Report could sell for $200 million and never have paid more than a million total to all its writers since its inception. For comparison's sake ESPN pays Rick Reilly $2.4 million a year. I'm not saying Reilly deserves this money, but major media values individual writers much more than upstart media does.   

Now, in Bleacher Report's defense they can argue, I think fairly, that they are opening up the sportswriting universe to a large group of would-be writers who hope to one day make a living off their work. That's a noble and egalitarian viewpoint. But my question would be this, where are the Bleacher Report writer success stories? Which writers that started writing on their site have been "discovered" and gone on to make a living elsewhere?

I can't think of any.

Most writers who have gone on to make a living off their work at major media companies have started writing on their own sites, not sites like Bleacher Report.

To me that means the business side of online sportswriting is great, but the writing side is not so great.

What's more, Bleacher Report is built upon a page view metric. I've written about the tyranny of page views before and why I think the market is fundamentally misvaluing advertising in an Internet age. In particular, one day of SI swimsuit traffic pageviews outdraws just about every sportswriter in America for an entire year. Why do online advertisers measure the effectiveness of their ad impressions based on the quantity as opposed to the quality of the impressions? Market forces right now are pushing online writers to produce more work of less quality. Shouldn't it be the opposite? In a time when we're all busy as hell, don't you want to cut through the clutter and actually get to the good stuff instead of wading through mountains of crap?

I think quality matters more now than ever before.

Maybe I'm wrong on this. Certainly the market disagrees right now.

To me good stuff has three qualities: it's original, it's smart, and it's funny.

We may not always manage all three at OKTC, but we try. That, to me, is what should be rewarded, the content that is rare. As is the market is rewarding the content that is the most common: the duplicative, the unintelligent, and the unfunny.

I think at some point advertisers will swing back towards quality.

At least I hope so.

Because ultimately page views are ephemeral.

If I wanted to triple the page views that OKTC does a in a month, I could do that immediately. But I'm not sure it would be in the best interests of the site.  

Anyway, I find this online evolution fascinating. I've been poring over our data lately and I'll give you our yearly stats here in a few weeks, but thanks to y'all who have been with us from the start -- and also those who have found us since the start.

The Bullpen on our site will launch by SEC Media Days, on OKTC's one year anniversary. The goal of the Bullpen is to find great writers who are underexposed.

We're not going to publish everything, but I'll have an editor reviewing submissions and if you're good, we're going to start promoting other writers too.

Circling back around congrats to Bleacher Report if it happens.

Adam M. writes:

With news that Texas Tech might cancel a game to avoid appearing on the Longhorn Network, how big of a disaster is the LHN?

It's a Titanic like disaster.

ESPN got stuck holding the bag, but it could just as easily have been Fox. ESPN won the bidding and lost the network war.

I mean, I can't even think of any business decision that ESPN has ever made that has played out this poorly. Can y'all?

Maybe the mobile phone business. Remember ESPN Mobile? That failure cost a ton of money, but at least then you could blame being ahead of the market's desire. I mean, people did want to use their phones to keep tabs on sports and their lives, the technology just wasn't good enough yet. So ESPN Mobile was too forward thinking. But the LHN?

No one wants the network. Now or ever. Hell, Texas even had to pay $70,000 to get the network on in its own dorm rooms last year. The games suck, the revenue is pathetic, yet the LHN is continuing to create instability across the entire Big 12 and by extension across all of college football.

If Texas had just gone independent I think things would have been smoother for the rest of college football.

Texas A&M, Colorado, Nebraska, and Missouri are all in different conferences because of it. So are TCU and West Virginia. By extension so are SMU, San Diego State, Boise State, Pitt, Syracuse, basically it all spirals back to the LHN and the instability of Texas in the Big 12.  

In historical terms, the Longhorn Network is the football equivalent of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. One set off World War I, the other set off realignment.  

ESPN is so profitable in other arenas that the LHN failure is just a rounding error on its books, but this is still an amazing swing and miss. 

At what point do they just roll the LHN programming into the existing ESPN structure and give up on distribution? That has to happen soon, right?  

@artallvol writes:

"Do you plan on writing any more books?"

Yes, I will.

It's a fascinating time for a writer with the rise of the e-book market. Theoretically I can sell my next book for much cheaper to y'all and make more money. Why? Because the market forces of distribution are bending back in favor of the talent. I can do all the marketing myself through OKTC, Twitter, and Facebook. Say I sell an e-book for $6. I can make more money off that than I can from a $25 hardback.

That's pretty amazing.

No matter what I do to make a living -- write books, columns, talk on the radio or whatnot -- I try to learn the economic model behind it. That's the only way to maintain creative freedom, if you know the business as well as the guys wearing the suits. So I'm kind of waiting to see which way the book market moves. I've sold a ton of college football books, but I'm not sure there's another college football book I want to write right now. In order for me to find the time to write it, the book has to have the potential to transcend sports, that is your mom and grandma have to be willing to read it. As is, "The Blind Side," is the only college football book that has broken into the open field and crossed over to the general public in the past fifteen years. 

As busy as I am with two pre-school sons, fifteen hours or radio a week, OKTC, and long form writing projects, the story has to be really compelling.   

Having said all that I think it's safe to say you can expect a new e-book release from me by Christmas.

Also, I've been busy writing outside of the site too. I just finished a movie script -- it's a different challenge -- and also a pilot for a television show.

Will anything come of them?

We'll see.

But I think y'all will enjoy the e-book.   

In the meantime, here I am on NBC Sports Network last night talking about the playoff. Yes, I said 1998 when I meant 1988. Clearly, I'm an idiot. But you already knew that.  

 

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