Grande adds Longhorn Network, but few in area will see today's game
A last-minute deal that put the week-old Longhorn Network in the Grande Communications lineup will make tonight's Texas-Rice football game available on television in parts of Central Texas, but most Austin-area cable and satellite subscribers remain out of luck.
Grande has about 20,000 customers in Austin, primarily in the east and northeast parts of town, as well as Hyde Park, Tarrytown and near the University of Texas campus. It's also available in San Marcos, where the company is based.
"We're a Texas company, and our customers are big sports fans," Grande spokesman Doug Curran said Friday. "We definitely wanted to reach a deal if it was right for us and right for them."
Before signing Grande late Friday, the Longhorn Network hadn't been able to come to terms with any of the cable and satellite companies serving Central Texas, including AT&T U-verse, DirecTV, Dish Network and Time Warner Cable, the area's dominant provider.
Grande placed LHN on its expanded basic tier, making it available to about 98 percent of its customers, Curran said. In Austin and San Marcos, the network can be found on Channel 29, or in high definition on Channel 829.
Just over 4 million cable customers nationwide — most of them Verizon FiOS subscribers — have access to LHN, which will air tonight's game exclusively.
The Grande deal added 180,000 viewers in cities across Texas, including Corpus Christi, Midland and San Antonio.
The Rice game isn't available on pay-per-view and won't be simulcast by ESPN — which partnered with UT to launch the Longhorn Network — or any of ESPN's sibling networks, a LHN spokeswoman said.
"I believe the intrigue associated with this game to be exceptionally high, given the new coaching staff and the infusion of so many talented young players," said Michael Chasnoff, a UT alumnus living in Cincinnati. "I find this to be absolutely unacceptable."
For most Longhorn fans in Central Texas and beyond, radio will be the only way to catch the first game of the season. That includes members of the Houston Texas Exes chapter, who will gather for a listening party.
"I wish I had a better answer," said Suzanne Tamas, the chapter's coordinator.
In Austin, the game can be heard on KVET-AM (1300) and KVET-FM (98.1). KVET-AM plans nine hours of coverage , starting with a pregame show at 3 p.m. and ending with a postgame wrap-up scheduled to run until midnight.
Most Central Texas sports bars contacted by the American-Statesman said they have DirecTV, Dish Network or Time Warner Cable, giving them no access to the Longhorn Network . However, Third Base, which has locations downtown, in South Austin and in Round Rock, said it will have the UT game. The Tap Room and Pluckers in San Marcos will, as well.
The lack of availability for the game will no doubt hurt business at many bars and restaurants around town, said Charles Milligan, co-owner of Doc's Motorworks on South Congress Avenue. The standoff between ESPN and major cable providers has Milligan so miffed he posted a sign in front of the restaurant that reads, "UT and ESPN get your crap together."
"I'm just so frustrated," he said. "We've had a million calls all week. It's a tremendous letdown for everybody."
LHN officials said they were not concerned about the lack of deals to carry the network and remained hopeful more contracts would be signed soon.
"It's definitely unfortunate for Texas fans," said Stephanie Druley, one of LHN's vice presidents, "but we're in a 20-year deal, so the fact that we're a week in and are dealing with this really isn't that unusual."
The sticking point appears to be ESPN's asking price, which is widely reported to be 40 cents per subscriber per month. ESPN is said to want the Longhorn Network added to basic cable lineups instead of premium sports tiers, which have significantly fewer subscribers.
"We've had discussions with ESPN about Longhorn Network, but we have no plans right now to carry it," said DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer. "We understand Longhorn has other programming that may be of value to a small segment of our customers, but two UT football games do not constitute a network. We're happy to carry those two games under the considerable fees we already pay ESPN for programming that includes the Big 12."
Aside from this season's exclusive football broadcasts, LHN's offerings include about 200 other live sporting events each year, a nightly "Longhorn Extra" broadcast with news from each UT sport, interviews with players and coaches and replays of notable UT games from previous years.
Some critics have questioned whether the network, with its laser focus on UT athletics, is too niche to succeed. ESPN executives, however, said that's just not true.
"I'm not a Big Ten fan," Druley said, "but I watch the Big Ten Network. If you're a sports fan, you're going to watch us."
For now, Longhorn fans hope they won't have to wait much longer to catch their favorite team in action.
"I not only want to watch football, but all events and telecasts on LHN," said Austinite David Klaus. "This is going to affect Horns fans all over the world. I have a nephew in Kuwait City, and he is really disappointed that it will not be on TV."
"We're just crossing our fingers someone will step up and be a hero," Milligan, the co-owner of Doc's Motorworks, said.
UT-Kansas will be network's second football game
Texas' football game against Kansas on Oct. 29 will air exclusively on the Longhorn Network, officials with the network announced Friday.
The matchup between the Longhorns and the Jayhawks will be the first Big 12 football game to air on the network, which went on the air Aug. 26.
— Gary Dinges