Barry Switzer's plan to take over college football
Most fall Saturdays, friends go to Barry Switzer's Norman, Okla., home to watch the Sooners' game on TV. Switzer led the University of Oklahoma football team to three national championships before joining the Dallas Cowboys as head coach and winning a Super Bowl.
Those dropping by might include former Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims or country singer Toby Keith, settling down for the afternoon in an open-air man cave nicknamed "Coaches' Cabana."
Wouldn't it be fun to hang out there? Now you can.
The venue has become the backdrop for Switzer's latest business venture called, naturally, CoachesCabana.com. He has brought in a few cameras and is webcasting color commentary on Sooners games from the comfort of his own chair.
"It's like inviting you to come to my home and watch the game with me," he said one sunny afternoon last month before Oklahoma faced off against TCU.
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Switzer beta-tested the concept last season. During the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M, he said, his little webcast got 30,000 viewers and thousands of tweets.
"We knew right then we had something," he said.
This season, he and his partners have expanded CoachesCabana.com to more than a dozen top college programs, bringing in well-known former coaches—including Pat Jones for Oklahoma State, Jackie Sherrill for Texas A&M, Fred Akers for Texas and Johnny Majors for Tennessee—to stream their insights.
Perhaps most provocatively, Switzer has lined up Jay Paterno, son of the late Joe Paterno, to webcast for Penn State.
Switzer got the idea for the venture from business partners with backgrounds in print and television. He recalled their telling him, "We need to do an interactive type of show, where we can have fans tweet the coach, legendary coaches of these great programs around the country, and do something no one else is doing."
CoachesCabana.com is known a second-screen experience: Viewers watch the game on TV but listen to commentary on a second screen, such as a tablet or computer.
ESPN, NCAA are hands-off
Now hunting for more sponsors, Switzer happily holds up cans of Diet Coke during webcasts. He has even helped create a hilarious ad for Downstream Casino featuring golfer John Daly and Billy Sims wearing a James Brown outfit.
Switzer said the whole project has cost less than $1 million, including what his payments to the other coaches.
"We pay them a little bit," he said. "I did it for nothing last year."
The $6,000 to $7,000 he might pay coach is comparable to what they would get on ESPN, Switzer said. Perhaps, but ESPN has also paid billions to the NCAA for the rights to show college football games, while he has paid zero.
Why? Because he's not actually showing the games. That's the genius of CoachesCabana.com, if it works.
"I'm not showing anything the NCAA is producing," he said. "I'm just inviting you to come watch the game with Barry Switzer."
When asked if he'd contacted the NCAA, he replied with a laugh, "I didn't even call them when I worked for them. I mean, I know what the answer's going to be—no. I'd rather ask for forgiveness."
Switzer said he could even use the webcasts to help encourage recruits to come to Oklahoma.
"I'm not working for the university—they don't pay me," he said. He paused briefly before adding, "They didn't pay me much when I worked for them, you know what I mean?"
Switzer hopes to expand Coaches Cabana to 30 of the top programs nationwide, but only if he can find former coaches with the right personalities and fan bases.
While the webcasts are often hokey and occasionally awkward, and remain a work in progress ("My little white Lab jumped in my lap and knocked all the wires loose and we went off the air," Switzer recalled of one game), they may appeal to hard-core fans.
The webcast is also interactive. Fans tweet questions that the coaches answer during the game, and being on the Internet allows for a certain looseness of language.
This 76-year-old former coach sees a day where second-screen viewing is the norm.
"When everyone gets a smart screen in their home, a smart television sitting on their wall or in their den, when half of it can be Internet, live cable television on one side, and the Internet on the other side … it's going to be a lot of fun," Switzer said. "You don't have to watch someone on network television do the color who's never covered a kickoff or brought one back, understand, girl?"
—By CNBC's Jane Wells. Follow her on Twitter: @janewells