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New Longhorn Network looks like it's all about ESPN, not Texas

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Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_lhn logo
Courtesy of ESPN
Austin Photo: news_kevin_longhorn network_galindo_july 2011
Lowell Galindo Courtesy of ESPN
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_sam steele
Samantha Steele Courtesy of ESPN
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_Kevin Dunn
Kevin Dunn Courtesy of ESPN
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_longhorn set
Courtesy of ESPN
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_set desk
The Longhorn Network studio set Courtesy of ESPN
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_lhn logo
Austin Photo: news_kevin_longhorn network_galindo_july 2011
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_sam steele
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_Kevin Dunn
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_longhorn set
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_set desk
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_time warner cable
Austin Photo: Author_kevin_benz

I gotta get something off my chest. I do this occasionally... just hear me out.

Don't get me wrong, I want the Longhorn Network to succeed. Me and some hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Longhorn fans, want it to grow, add millions of dollars to our alma mater's coffers, keep the athletic department's budget in the thin air of the stratosphere and keep making oklahoma people insane with jealousy (note, the small "o" is not a typo).

But there's a problem I just can't get out of my head ... and remember, my blood runs orange. This week, the Longhorn Network (aka ESPN, aka The Worldwide Leader) fed the Austin American-Statesman an exclusive feast (the press release went out to the rest of us a day later) naming its "nationally known" anchors and showing off an illustrated graphic of its studio set. Nice.

Here's my problem ... who the hell are these "nationally known" anchor people? Lowell GalindoKevin DunnSamantha Steele. Seriously?

I have nothing against these folks, I'm sure they are capable sports journalists ... but this is the best ESPN could do?

Wait, it gets better ... 31 of the 50 people the Longhorn Network has hired are from Bristol, Conn. (or Charlotte, N.C., home of ESPNU). Bristol is the Worldwide Leader's worldwide headquarters. .. reminds me of the old Pace Picante sauce commercial ... BRISTOL, CONNECTICUT?! Get a rope.

At least 10 of the employees are UT grads ... that's 20 percent if you're keeping score. Put any 50 people in Austin in the same room, I promise more than 20 percent went Texas.

 I want to see people who know Longhorn sports inside and out and ask tough questions ... 

Maybe I'm being too judgmental, let's give them benefit of the doubt and look at some quotes our new Longhorn anchors gave the Statesman:

  • Galindo grew up in San Antonio, great! “I love how the entire city revolves around UT,” he told the paper. Hmmm, not sure he's been in Austin for awhile. We have this little thing downtown called the Texas Capitol... it's where our government meets, kind of a big deal in Austin. In fact, one can live here a very long time without ever coming in contact with UT, ask anyone in Cedar Park. To be fair, The Houston Chronicle gave Galindo a bit more time to talk about football. "The coaching staff is younger with (new coordinators Manny Diaz and Bryan Harsin), and a lot of people wanted to see Major Applewhite's role bumped up. And to have a running back like Malcolm Brown and to have an opportunity to see a classic style of Texas football is exciting as well." OK, he's been reading up, that's a good start.
     
  • Dunn went to Westlake high school, graduated from UT and worked radio at The Zone for five years, excellent! “Everything about the Longhorn Network is going to be high-class: the people, the programming, the graphics, the lighting … everything.” The lighting? Seriously? That's what he's bringing?
  • Last chance, Samantha Steele. That's an awesome TV name. She worked at Fox Sports, no Texas experience is noted, but yes, she's hot. “I wasn’t looking for a new job,” she said, “but this was an awesome opportunity.” That it is Samantha, that it is. 

Well, now we know how deeply engrained the Texas athletic experience is in these folks.

Now I've had the good fortune of hanging around Austin TV a pretty good while. I've seen a lot of excellent sports journalists come and go. People who have covered Texas football inside and out, people who know where the bodies are buried, people who can give context and perspective to the team, its history and its tradition.

People like that have applied for those jobs, names I promise you would recognize. Many, most, didn't even get a call back. Hmmm ... why would that be? (Note: Yes, for transparency, I applied back in February, no, I got no call back ... no, I don't have a chip on my shoulder I ended up with a great job at CultureMap).

Stephanie Druley and Dave Brown are the leading players for the Network. Stephanie is a Texas Ex Life Member (ESPN and UT like to emphasize that). She has a spectacular resume and I'm sure she and Brown (who is no slouch in the experience department either) will put together a top-notch organization full of incredibly talented people producing remarkably great television — I'm giving them benefit of the doubt.

ESPN has too much invested in the LN to allow it to fail, and they know how to do great TV.

I'm not worried about high quality television, (the lighting I hear will be high-class). I just don't want to watch generic ESPN on my Longhorn Network. I want to see people who know Longhorn sports inside and out and ask tough questions of Mack Brown and Rick Barnes. I want people who know Texas talking about Texas. I don't need another homer media outlet feeding me the company line.

And I'm not the only one who feels that way. Our enemies ... er ... competitors in oklahoma are a little concerned about how their TV games on the Longhorn Network will sound. They're pretty sure it'll sound a lot like the Texas Longhorn Network rather than ESPN ... duh. 

So here's where we are, a first-class organization, ESPN, is running the show (has anyone heard a peep from UT about this?), the first live sports programming will be ... UT volleyball vs. Pepperdine on Aug. 26. That's good, the volleyball team deserves more TV love.

LN will air the Rice football game, and my money says the Texas Tech game. I hear the Baylor game is out (no interest) and the Oklahoma State game, well they're scared to death of the LN network so it would be great fun to watch, but Tech is an intrastate rivalry.

By the way, I am assured by people who should know that Time Warner Cable and ESPN will get their shit together to make sure the Longhorn Network is on the biggest cable provider in Central Texas. What sense would it make for that not to happen? Wait, what sense does any of this make?

God I hope UT won't revoke my season tickets for this, I really do love that team. Thanks for hearing me out. Disagree? You know where to find me.

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