Dominos Falling Into Place: ACC Signs Television Deal With ESPNPosted by rtmsf on May 19th, 2010
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences and an occasional contributor.
Although not official yet, it has been reported that ESPN and the ACC have come to an agreement on a new TV deal, with ESPN reportedly outbidding FoxSportsNet to the tune of $1.86 billion over twelve years for exclusive rights to ACC football and basketball. The new deal for the ACC will more than double their previous television revenues from their contracts with Raycom and ESPN; the previous ACC deal was for about $67 million per season, while the new deal will bring the ACC about $155 million per season.
The size of the new contract is seen as a major victory for the ACC, and is rumored to be the result of a bidding war between ESPN and Fox. However, Fox did not get a chance to match ESPN’s final offer because the ACC found ESPN’s brand to be too attractive to lose out on should ESPN drop out of the bidding. As for Raycom, they are expected to continue broadcasting some ACC games, which they will buy from ESPN (much like ESPN bought the rights to individual games from Raycom in the past), but the ACC Tournament will likely be exclusive to ESPN in the future. An interesting side note of the new TV deal: Jim Young of ACCSports.com reports that there will be a new name for the league’s syndication package with Raycom: the ACC Network. However, for now this will not be a business venture similar to the remarkably successful Big Ten Network, rather just the regional syndication of games shown on Raycom.
As no official announcement has been made by either party, there are likely continuing negotiations on the fine print, and plenty of questions remain. With rumors swirling about ACC teams perhaps jumping to one conference or another (Maryland and Virginia are among the most recently rumored schools that the Big Ten is interested in, while schools like Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Miami have been mentioned in conjuction with possible SEC expansion), there will potentially be binding clauses in the contract allowing ESPN buyout options should the makeup of the conference change during the lifetime of the deal. There are also questions as to when and where ESPN will televise games and the fate of things like FSN’s ACC Sunday Night Hoops feature. It is possible that Fox will continue to purchase games from ESPN for broadcast on their networks. Once a final announcement is delivered, hopefully we’ll get answers to these things.
With the Pac-10 and Big 12 set to negotiate new contracts for themselves (all of the Pac-10 contracts expire at the end of the 2012 academic calendar while the Big 12’s contract with Fox expires at that time and their ESPN/ABC contract expires in 2016), there is some good news for both conferences here. While the ACC did not get the kind of money that the SEC received from ESPN, they certainly got a great deal in what is a far different economic climate than when the SEC negotiated their deal a few years ago. And with ESPN having just lost out on its bid for the NCAA Tournament, they clearly have plenty of money to throw around. What’s more, given Fox’s aggressive offers on the ACC contract, they’ll have plenty of money to throw around in these upcoming negotiations. And there is also talk of Turner Sports, who recently got into the college basketball business as part of the new NCAA Tournament television contract, wanting to increase its hoops presence by securing the rights to some regular season games. All of which means these two leagues shouldn’t have a problem finding entities interested in bidding on their contracts, especially in the occurrence of a strategic alliance between the two, an alliance that would deliver roughly 30% of the nation’s TV markets.
There are some potential negatives here, however, if ESPN has either burned through all of its available cash or has an overabundance of college sports content to fill up the fall and winter schedules after locking up the ACC. For the Pac-10, the BCS conference with the weakest ties to ESPN, it is unlikely that they can get a larger deal than what the ACC got simply because as currently situated, the ACC has a larger footprint and a more attractive product (ACC basketball > Pac-10 basketball or even Pac-10 football). However, the league should be able to improve on the estimated $53 million worth of annual revenue from its television contracts, but the key question remains whether the conference will feel the need to expand to open up new markets in the arms race.