ESPNU (often referred to as The U) is a television channel that specializes in college sports, and is produced by, affiliated with and owned by parent network ESPN. ESPNU originates out of ESPN Regional Television’s (a.k.a. ESPN Plus) Charlotte, North Carolina offices located in the Ballantyne area of South Charlotte.The network was launched on March 4, 2005 from the site of Gallagher-Iba Arena on the Oklahoma State University Campus in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The network’s first live event was a semi-final game of the Ohio Valley Conference men’s basketball tournament that saw Southeast Missouri State University fall to Eastern Kentucky University. The network was launched as a response to upstart rival CSTV (now CBS Sports Network). ESPN was also being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department due to “warehousing” of college games from certain conferences, or signing a deal with a conference for all their games, but only televising a small number and not allowing the conference to make other arrangements for TV broadcasts.
ESPN and XOS Technologies signed a partnership for college athletics websites to compete directly with CSTV’s growing internet presence. On August 28, 2006, ESPNU launched a new SportsCenter spin-off dealing entirely with college sports. That show, called SportsCenterU, was originally scheduled to be broadcast from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, but ESPN changed its plans and the show originates from Charlotte.
Mike Hall was the show’s lead anchor until August 2007, when he left for the new Big Ten Network. The new anchors are Mike Gleason and Lowell Galindo. They are joined on-set by color commentators that vary with the sports season.Also, on August 28, 2006, ESPNU premiered ESPNU.com. The website included live streaming college sports events, multi-media player dedicated to college sports, podcasts and ESPN Motion clips of studio programming from the ESPNU television network.ESPNU expanded its live programming to water polo by broadcasting its first-ever water polo match between the women of Princeton University and Bucknell University on March 28, 2009 from DeNunzio Pool, Princeton, NJ.On May 19, 2009, ESPN announced a deal had been reached with Comcast to add the channel to their lineup. The deal allows them to carry ESPNU on a widely-distributed digital cable tier, instead of a less popular sports tier.ESPNU should be on most Comcast systems in time for the start of the 2009–2010 college football season. This ended multiple years of negotiations and somewhat of a feud between Comcast and ESPN over carriage of ESPNU.Also on May 19, 2009, a new carriage agreement with DirecTV was reached. The channel was moved from the satellite TV provider’s add on “Sports Pack” to its basic “Choice” package on July 1, 2009, swapping channels and packages with ESPN Classic.Cablevision added ESPNU for the first time on March 23, 2010.On August 4, 2009 Dish Network sued ESPN for $1 million in a federal lawsuit, alleging that ESPN breached its contract by not extending the same carriage terms the programmer provided to Comcast and DirecTV for ESPNU and ESPN Classic. The lawsuit claims ESPN violated the “Most Favored Nations” clause.The next day, ESPN announced they will fight the lawsuit and said in a press release: “We have repeatedly advised Dish that we are in full compliance with our agreement and have offered them a distribution opportunity with respect to ESPNU and ESPN Classic consistent with the rest of the industry. We will not renegotiate settled contracts and will vigorously defend this legal action, the apparent sole purpose of which is to get a better deal.” Dish Network moved the channel from its “Classic Gold 250” package to its “Classic Bronze 100” package on September 30, 2009. However they claim it has nothing to do with the lawsuit.ESPNU HD is a 720p high definition simulcast of ESPNU that launched on August 28, 2008 to coincide with the start of the College Football season. The service debuted with the football game between Vanderbilt and Miami University. Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS, Blue Ridge Communications, Atlantic Broadband and Broadstripe carried the HD channel at the launch date. In late 2008, AT&T U-Verse added it. Bright House Networks began adding the HD channel on a regional basis on November 7, 2009. Cablevision added it on March 23, 2010. DirecTV added the HD channel on May 19, 2010.