TV deal or no TV deal; timing is everything

Published 10:19 am Monday, May 23, 2016

The Atlantic Coast Conference wrapped up their spring meeting last week. They were held this year in Amelia Island, FL – just off the coast of the Sunshine State near the Florida-Georgia line (The real one, not the country duo!). A bit more like hurricane fury than actual damage seemed to be the order of the day.

The meeting began with several big issues up for discussion, among them: North Carolina (the league’s headquarters) and the state’s controversial HB2.While everyone from entertainers to Fortune 500 companies have taken their business elsewhere, the ACC, meanwhile, has not taken a firm stance on the legislation.

There’s the question of player compensation beyond the established full cost of attendance scholarships for student-athletes, especially since things are trending toward providing more assistance to athletes, and it’s not a trend that will reverse itself anytime soon.

There’s been word Notre Dame would like a slice of the revenue pie from the conference football Championship Game. While now only the division winners play for the title, the league has advocated for alternative formats. With Notre Dame a partial member for football and the Irish eager to secure a spot in future College Football Playoffs, the ACC allowing Notre Dame into its title game might just be a boom for everyone – except the divisional champion who gets pushed out; and I’ll bet you the city of Charlotte that it won’t be the division with Florida State, Clemson, or Louisville in it.

Finally, they discussed the ACC TV Network, or non-existence of one. League officials continue to deflect questions about details, other than to say ESPN and the ACC are committed to a partnership.

But with the SEC and Big Ten both outstripping the ACC in revenue – in part due to lucrative television channels that help increase their profit margins – the pressure continues to rise for the ACC to announce a timeline.

At the end of Thursday’s meetings Commissioner John Swofford said little concrete about negotiations with ESPN for a possible ACC Network. But just about everything he said suggested that the two entities are still confidently moving toward some sort of network.

ESPN and the ACC have been negotiating over a possible channel similar to the SEC or the Big Ten network dating back to 2013. Swofford did say that “very significant discussions” have continued with the sports cable net and that the league spent “a significant amount of time” at the meetings on the topic.

League athletic directors and coaches are undoubtedly eager for a network and its expected revenues increase. Sure there was a boondoggle with two of three years playing for the football National Championship; not to mention how many ACC schools made the NCAA Basketball Sweet 16 this past March.

Each school’s finance people have to be concerned about the conference falling behind the Big Ten and the SEC, which both have significantly larger media contracts, because without its own network the league is missing a valuable revenue stream; one that’s only going to get wider to cross.

The Big Ten projects its member schools will receive more than $40 million by 2017-18 (that’s you, Maryland!). Just last year alone, the SEC shared $31.2 million with each of its schools. ACC members are closer to $20 million. When you’re the field hockey program, or even the golf team, that extra cash pays for a few extra playing dates, or two.

Swofford said while there’s no deadline and the talks are still evolving, he praised ESPN, which is facing challenges to its continued profitability because of declining viewership and increasing rights fees. And that doesn’t begin to mention the loss of key talent, the latest being the glib and once dedicated Mike Tirico.

Swofford also stressed the importance of timing for both sides. Getting it right is a lot more important than how quick something gets done.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.