Record Crowd Gathers for Plonsky Keynote at CSVS

The third-annual College Sports Video Summit began with a little bit of history and some predictions for the future as 550 college sports video professionals gathered in Atlanta to hear from legendary University of Texas Women’s AD Chris Plonsky. As women’s AD/senior associate AD, Athletics External Services, Plonsky is the chief architect of UT’s dedicated Longhorn Network. She used her keynote address on June 7 to show how that network will be relevant far beyond the borders of Austin.

“This network is going to be very special for college sports, our university, other universities, and higher education in general,” Plonsky told the standing-room-only crowd. “There’s a hunger for content, but technology and personnel cost money. How to monetize this appropriately was the biggest challenge, and we labored over that concept for a long time.”

She delved into a history of the college-sports-video landscape, recapping the 1984 Supreme Court case that allowed schools to sell their own video rights; the birth of the Big East Network, which delivered point-to-point basketball games; and Fox’s 1996 entry into college-sports production.

“That was a signature moment for college sports across the country,” Plonsky said. “Getting another competitor in the landscape to deliver college content was critical.”

Before discussing the evolution of the Longhorn Network, she tipped her hat to the college-specific entities already in the television marketplace, from BYU and The Mtn. to the Big Ten Network and Oprah Winfrey’s new cable entity.

“When you have a platform that’s an asset like a channel, nothing delivers to a constituency like that,” Plonsky said. “Nothing is like TV or video in that regard. Taking advantage of this platform for branding is very key. All of us are in this for the same reason.”

The University of Texas has always outsourced its video production but, internally, has spent years increasing its staff to prepare to create a network. Each of the university’s 20 varsity sports has its own full-time media liaison. Plonsky explained that, in its own way, men’s swimming is as important as football. Once the staff was in place to service the production of a 24/7 network on campus, she explained, the question became, why not us?

“What if it was us all the time and went far beyond sports?” she asked. “There is so much in Austin — arts, theater, politics. Our friends at ESPN have been very good to say that this is going to be a network that’s going to lead with sports but be about a lot more than that. This is a sharing network in my mind.”

In addition to content like athletics practices, workout sessions, and physical-fitness and nutrition shows put on by trainers, there will be plenty of non-athletics programming on the Longhorn network, from the annual State of the University address to fashion shows and distinguished-alumni ceremonies.

“Most of that content is around fundraising because we are in a fundraising mode,” Plonsky said. “Most of the vignettes and messaging and interstitials that we’re going to create to brand Texas are encouraging our alumni to give back to the university. There’s nothing like programming and visuals to get a message across.”

Although the Longhorn Network will be sports-centric out of the gate, Plonsky expects that, five to 10 years from now, the network will be doing far more good for the University and the state agenda than it will be for sports.

“For the other great content that will appear on this network,” she said, “it’s going to be marvelous.”

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the College Sports Video Summit.