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ESPN Still in Bidding for Longhorn Network

Stock in Texas football may have a sell short order right now, but it is still a bull market for the proposed Longhorn Network.

The Sports Business Journal is now reporting that Fox Sports is no longer a virtual lock to partner with UT in the cable venture, and that ESPN has made a strong counter offer.

ESPN has called in John Skipper, their Executive VP for content to handle the negotiations. Skinner is well known to IMG College, the multi-media rights holder for UT. Texas had hoped to announce a partnership for the UT channel by the end of this month, but it is now expected to stretch negotiations into November.

And while the present angst over the football team should have no real effect over these negotiations, the deal will add to the imperative that 2010 be just a dip on the Texas football stock portfolio.

Both Fox and ESPN have deep pockets and the the needed experience in distribution. Both already have multiple platforms that could easily adapt to a UT channel, and both have been through tough rights negotiations and would be more than willing to handle that part of an agreement.

UT has indicated that they don't have to have ownership in the channel -- IMG College and the distributor could simply pay a right fee and handly everything -- including sales.

Both Fox and ESPN already have a piece of the Big 12 pie, so both would be easy to work with in terms of rights for games not on the networks. While Fox seemed to have the inside track, the involvement of ESPN's Skipper changes the landscape dramtically.

One advantage ESPN has is their overwhelming experience in creative development.

The cross-promotion possibilities, along with the creative development for additional programming aside from games makes ESPN a very attractive partner to Texas.

All you have to do is take a look at all of the additional programming and promotion ESPN does for the SEC to understand why hooking up with the WWL is a real possibility. Texas believes that they can expect $3 million a year from the proposed channel, but the potential windfall from the cross-promotion for being a part of the ESPN brand is mind boggling.

The fact is there will only be one football game and a few basketball games live on the Longhorn channel. Having ESPN not only out there selling the channel but having a personal investment in the creative programming side of it is the stuff Athletic Director's dreams are made of.