When the presidents and chancellors of the Atlantic Coast Conference member schools unanimously signed a grant of rights in April, the deal was historic.
In signing over a school’s television rights, it ensured that no school would possibly be jumping to another conference. And it means that an ACC channel is on the way.
Following the example of the Big Ten Network, Pac-12 Network and the SEC Network (which launches in August 2014), a yet-to-be-named ACC channel would likely be a part of a sports tier for cable or satellite subscribers.
While the high-profile football and basketball games will still be on ABC and the ESPN networks, an ACC channel would be a warehouse for the conference to show baseball and women’s basketball. And Olympic sports like soccer and track and field, which get little attention on TV. Or even a library of classic matchups from the past.
ACC officials are cautious about launching such a channel, saying only that they are exploring the possibility. But conversations have taken place with ACC presidents and athletic directors, an indication that a channel could be formally announced in the near future.
The addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh this fall, along with Louisville in 2014 and the conference’s tie-in with Notre Dame, means that there are a considerable number of households that have an interest in the ACC.
“The great thing for the Atlantic Coast Conference is that we have 43 million homes in our footprint,” FSU athletic director Randy Spetman said. “We’re bigger than any other conference. If you can get a majority of those to subscribe in some form to your network that’s a lot of revenue. And it gives us a tremendous amount of exposure across the whole East Coast.”
The benefit, of course, to launching a TV network is revenue. How much is uncertain.
One obstacle for the ACC is the rights to about 30 football games and 60 basketball games that have been sold to Raycom, reports the Sports Business Journal. Raycom owns those games and has sub-licensed some to FOX’s regional sports networks. So it’s possible that the ACC would have to buy back those rights before it launched an ACC channel.
How much of a challenge is that? It might just be a matter of patient negotiation. The Pac-12 bought back its rights from IMG College and Learfield Sports. And the SEC also purchased its rights from IMG College, Learfield Sports and CBS Collegiate Sports Properties.
FSU, Miami and the other league’s schools already receive about $18 million per year from the ACC’s current TV deal, the SBJ reports. And even if an ACC channel doesn’t come to fruition anytime soon, SBJ says that ESPN would bump the deal up to almost $20 million per school.
Once on the air, conference-affiliated networks have been a success but the process certainly hasn’t been smooth.
The Big Ten Network has been around the longest, and is now in about 100 million homes in the U.S. and Canada. Yet it still is having to battle with cable and satellite providers in the coverage areas of Maryland and Rutgers, which are joining the conference in 2014. The Pac-12 has had similar distribution snags with DirecTV. And the Longhorn Network, which broadcasts just University of Texas games, has been slow to catch on.
But beyond TV, both the Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Network have smartphone and tablet apps available for download. So the prospect of watching live games, highlight shows or interviews, is available to a mass audience.
“These types of channels can be a good asset for conferences,” said the SBJ’s John Ourand. “Conferences increasingly are using them as a way to get coverage for little-viewed Olympic channels.”
Spetman urges caution in regards to predictions of revenue. The ACC is clearly working with broadcast partner ESPN on the logistics and financials. But Spetman thinks that once a fan buys into a sports tier (or already has it and pays extra for an ACC channel) he or she will hang on to it to watch the college or pro sports programming.
“From what I have been told, if you or I buy a subscription to those we stay with it,” Spetman said. “We never end up cancelling it. Which is good.”
That may be the reason why we will see an ACC channel – it is bound to make schools, the ACC and ESPN at least some money. It’s hard to tell if revenue to schools will be hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars annually.
But it remains very likely that the ACC will follow the other major conferences and launch its own channel.
“We couldn’t even explore our own network if they (ESPN) didn’t think they could make money on it,” Spetman said. “They have looked at our footprint and our households and the quality of our play and they say, ‘This is going to be a revenue generator.’ … In the next couple years you’ll see it come forward.”