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The Upper North Perspective: The ACC/ESPN Network is (Finally) Here

Did the slow and steady pace of the ACC and John Swofford pay off?

NCAA Football: ACC Football Kickoff
Did John Swofford put the ACC in position to win the race?
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC/ESPN Network is (Finally) Here

Welcome back for another week of The Upper North Perspective!

I would like to start off by saying sorry to those of you who may have been looking forward to the column I promised on the defense. That column has been bumped to next week, so please continue to anticipate that. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.

The reason for the bump this week is the ACC has finally closed the deal with ESPN to provide the conference with its very own network. The ACC is the fourth Power 5 conference to get its own network and even manages to beat the Big 12 to the punch here.

This development presents major opportunities for the ACC, its 15 members, and, more importantly for us here at FTRS, Georgia Tech. This is a game changer for the conference as a whole and enables John Swofford to possibly prove that slow and steady can win the race after all.

The Deal

The ACC and ESPN are now engaged in a 20 year partnership through 2036. This signed agreement includes a grant in rights signed by all 15 league members that expires with the ACC/ESPN contract. We will dive more into that later.

The ACC Network agreement starts almost immediately with the launch of ACC Network Extra digitally in August 2016. The digital network will be available immediately to all users of ESPN3 and WatchESPN. The agreement starts with 600 live events across the 27 conference sports broadcast on the digital network with this number increasing annually to a goal of 900 by 2019. From my understanding, this will also work with the pre-existing ACC Digital Network launched by the conference. Swofford stated that the idea here is for the ACC to get ahead of the “cord cutters” and begin launching and tweaking a digital platform that will enable viewers to watch on the go from anywhere. This deal could put the ACC at the forefront to pioneer digital sports viewing for an ever increasing streaming universe.

This all builds to 2019 when the ACC and ESPN launch its very own devoted channel. This will not be a converted ESPNews or ESPNU; it will be a separate ACC channel. Raycom will continue to maintain regional broadcasting rights until 2019. On the ACC network, there will be 450 live events annually with 40 of those being football games, over 150 men’s and women’s basketball games, and 200+ regular season contests and tournament games across the various 27 sports that the ACC offers. With the deal, the ACC agreed to go up to 20 conference games in basketball in time for the 2019 season. This means more important matchups to be broadcasted regularly on the network.

The network will have regular and original programming that will require each of the member schools to develop on campus studios for the ACC Network. The on campus studios will be expected to have original content and be maintained by the school. The agreement also guarantees ESPN the exclusive rights to all ACC Championship events. The projected revenue stream has not been released yet as more information is continuing to come out.

Where does the ACC benefit most?

As I said earlier, John Swofford may have finally come through for the ACC. There are a few ways that I see this really benefitting the ACC, but it cannot be denied that Swofford has ensured stability in the conference for the next 20 years. The grant in rights agreement signed by all of the member schools has essentially locked them into the conference. The agreement signed ensures that a member school trying to leave the ACC would have to pay a $50 million exit fee and leave behind its television rights until the grant of rights expires. Not only would the member school have to come up with a lot of cash, they would also have to leave their television rights on the table with the ACC and ESPN. This would be a lot of money for a team and conference to forfeit to realign. This grant in rights agreement may be the single most important part of the network agreement.

This next benefit is obvious, but that does not make it less true. We are still waiting on more information for the revenue stream, but we do know that the revenue will increase for the ACC member schools. I have seen projections all over the place, but the consensus seems to be that each member school will see a 5 to 8 million dollar increase over the current media rights deal. This increase will put each member school over the 30 million dollar mark, after the most recent $26.2 million, in take home revenue. This will enable the ACC to rival the $32.7 million per school of the SEC and the $32.4 million of the Big Ten from the 2014-15 fiscal year. The additional revenue will help each member school devote more money to its athletics facilities and continue to close the gap in football between the SEC and ACC.

Another major thing to watch is the development of the ACC Network Extra. This streaming network could be a major positive for the conference if ESPN really pushes to innovate and improve their streaming process. However, this could just as likely end up being a bland excuse for online content if they follow the model of ESPN3. The ACC has a real chance to get out in front of the competition with digital content and streaming being a priority for the agreement from 2016 onward, and ACC fans can only hope that the ACC will be used as ESPN’s guinea pig for testing the limits of a streaming platform. If ESPN and the ACC push to change and innovate the platform together, the stream could be a significant part of the deal for the conference and its future. Being the leader and at the forefront of digital technology would be a nice, unexpected place to be when the ACC typically lags behind its competition. Making the ACC Network Extra different from the simple ESPN3 model will be key to separating the ACC from the other conferences.

What does this mean for the ACC, Georgia Tech, and the other member schools?

It cannot be understated how much of an impact having a strong contract with the worldwide leader for sports can have. The network is invested in the conference and its members at this point, and the deal forces ESPN to be as committed to ACC success as it is to the SEC. Yes, I think the attention ESPN pays to the SEC has a major impact on the success of the conference. When every kid invested in sports growing up is glued to ESPN, they will walk away being more committed to the teams that they recognize on the network. This is why having ESPN be more committed to the ACC in football as more than just a punchline will help the perception of the conference nationally. They essentially have to be more committed now. The money, time, plans, and effort being devoted to the conference forces ESPN to commit to bettering the perception of the ACC.

This also impacts the ability for the conference to solidify itself at the top of NCAA men’s basketball division for a very long time. ACC basketball will be at the forefront of the ESPN platform. Recruits will continue to notice that, and it will have a trickledown effect for the entire conference. A conference that is already strong will get even better. Football will be able to continue its accent back to relevancy because all the teams will be featured nationwide. A Georgia Tech-Virginia matchup in November could be a nationally televised game now. This increases the amount of people getting to watch and know the team. This impacts awards, voters, and playoff opportunities. This impacts seeding in the NCAA tournament. It affects everything from a national position.

Georgia Tech, and the other member schools, will benefit from this agreement. Recruiting will be better across all sports due simply to visibility, perception, and relevancy. The member schools have a chance to take a step forward in every sport offered. It does not just affect football and basketball; baseball, softball, tennis, track, etc. will all see the benefits of visibility. It increases enrollment rates at the various schools because the school is more relevant in the national spotlight. With a devoted network with original programming, more former athletes from the schools will be on-air personalities. For example, please see Roddy Jones’ future. I would put money down right now that he will be on the network.

The biggest impact for Georgia Tech and the other member schools? Money. There will be an increased revenue stream from the network. The increased applications and enrollment rates will impact the budget of the school. There will be money for the athletic department to stay out of debt (or get out of debt). There will be money for improving facilities and coaches. Evening out the money with the SEC and Big Ten will help to level the playing field in the conference arms race.

The ACC Network is the perfect snowball effect to push all of its member schools to the next level athletically and secures their spot in the national spotlight for a very long time.

Sound off! What do you think of the ACC/ESPN deal? What do you see the biggest impact of the deal?

Thanks for reading!