Oklahoma, Fox Sports launch sports TV venture

AP News
Posted: Sep 12, 2012 1:04 PM

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma launched its response to rival Texas' $300 million Longhorn Network on Wednesday, announcing a 10-year partnership with Fox Sports to air games live along with original content in a Sooner Sports TV programming package.

Instead of a round-the-clock dedicated channel similar to the Longhorn Network, Oklahoma will broadcast occasional blocks of programming on Fox's regional sports networks and nationally on Fox College Sports.

The arrangement will allow for live game broadcasts of Oklahoma men's and women's basketball, baseball, softball and Olympic sports as well as pregame and postgame shows for football games, football coach Bob Stoops' weekly television show and coverage of the annual spring football game.

It does not include Oklahoma football games, some of which already air on Fox under the Big 12 television contract.

"We did have a chance to examine several different options, including a stand-alone, 24/7 type of channel but this really gives us the best of all possible worlds," athletic director Joe Castiglione said. "We have substantial OU branding and programming along with immediate and full distribution for fans throughout Oklahoma, Texas, our region and ... through a variety of Fox platforms around the country."

The Longhorn Network has had trouble finding a foothold with cable and satellite providers. Just before the season, a deal was reached with AT&T U-verse to air the network, which is run in partnership with ESPN.

Oklahoma decided instead to partner with Fox, which will air the Sooners' programs on channels people already get instead of negotiating with carriers to add another channel.

"Being able to launch and reach almost 9 million people with the opportunity to grow that base is exciting," Castiglione said. "We examined the amount of programming that we would have available to us. Getting at least 1,000 hours of programming in a multi-platform network really was exciting for us. This is at least 10 times the amount of programming OU has been able to offer up previously to our fans."

The agreement allows Fox to air at least 1,000 hours of sports programming each year. Much of the content will be available to about 9 million television homes in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana over Fox's regional sports networks.

Fox Sports Southwest vice president Jon Heidtke said there would be an "emphasis to looking at the fan base in Oklahoma" but some programs would air nationally on Fox College Sports, which is available in New York City and Los Angeles.

"We're going to do our part to try to make sure that Sooner fans throughout the country are going to have access to this great programming and to this newly created programming as well," Heidtke said.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

"We know it's enough to make Sooner Sports TV sustainable for really the foreseeable future," Castiglione said. "It allows us to invest in the type of equipment and production necessary to produce over 1,000 hours of specific OU programming."

Oklahoma has made an investment in its video production facilities over the past five years, building a state-of-the-art HD production facility and using fiber optics to link sports venues across campus. The university's SoonerVision production unit has 95 employees.

Programming is expected to include about eight men's basketball games per season. Fox Sports has already been showing Stoops' weekly press conference, and the pregame and postgame shows began with the season opener against UTEP on Sept. 1.

The weekly coaches shows for men's basketball coach Lon Kruger and women's counterpart Sherri Coale are also included in the deal, along with shows on baseball and softball and the other spring sports. Some all-access football content will be available online but not on television.

Heidtke said one attractive part of the deal had nothing to do with live, present-day game content.

"They've got a tremendous amount of archival footage, going back into the '30s and '40s and Bud Wilkinson days," Heidtke said. "Certainly, the OU fans are really going to enjoy this when we bring that to life but I think college football fans in general will enjoy taking a walk down memory lane, seeing and reliving some of those great moments in college football past. OU is in the center of a lot of those throughout all the decades."

Heidtke said the Oklahoma programming will replace "some of the national content out there that really hasn't resonated with our viewers" in the Southwest region.