One of our favorite ACC writers @DavidTeelatDP recently had an interview with ACC Commissioner with John Swofford. Teel did a great job asking Swofford questions that many of us interested in the business side of the conference wanted to know about. Swofford will tend to keep things close to the vest, hence his nickname the “Ninja” commissioner. That has been the case with many of the conference’s expansion additions, but that is also the case with the details on the on going ACC/ESPN negotiations for a network.
Even when directly asked by Teel about a conference network, Swofford provides only somewhat vague answers, but there are enough hints that we can surmise pretty much where things stand.
We even have a timeline of Swofford’s language as it changed over the last few years concerning an ACC Network.
From a TigerNet interview with John Swofford and I’ll paraphrase here, since the page is copyrighted and I can’t copy.
At some point we could consider a network with ESPN. All of this is future oriented, if and when and probably when the ACC goes to subscription based channel
At this time, it sounds like the Swofford and the ACC had thought about a channel, but only in the most general sense. It doesn’t sound like any true evaluation had been done at this time.
What is the latest on the possibility of an ACC channel?
John Swofford: I think the grant of rights enhances the possibility of our having an ACC channel. … I think there’s real promise there as we evaluate that. The grant of rights opens up some opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be there and the potential for a channel is one of those.
This sounds very much in the exploratory phase. With the GOR signed, it made “evaluation” of a network a viable venture. I would say at this time, the true evaluations were just beginning.
From the David Teel interview with John Swofford - Teel also asks Swofford about future revenues, NCAA reform, Championship Autonomy, and Divisions. It’s well worth a read.
Since readers often ask me, I asked Swofford for an update on discussions with ESPN on the feasibility of an ACC cable channel.
“They continue,” he said, “and that’s not something that we’ll necessarily give public updates on along the way. It’s something that’s going to take a while to develop and evolve in a solid manner with the right kind of foundation for the long term.”…
“There are challenges,” he said. “It’s not something you just decide to do, and you snap your finger, and it’s done and it’s successful. You generally have to be willing, if you go that route, to have some tough negotiations from a distribution standpoint. You may even have to be willing to back up a little financially to do what you think is the right thing long-term.
“While a channel provides 24/7 conference programming, a channel sometimes doesn’t have as great a distribution potentially as a syndicated package, if you really look at the numbers. And our syndicated package with the ACC Network is now national. It used to be regional.
Regarding the network, this is clearly a move ahead from 2013 to 2014. It sounds like the ACC is deep into the evaluation portion of their ACC Network discussions. It’s interesting that Swofford is to the point where he even discusses the financial costs of a network in the short-term. I’m guessing, but this may include start up costs, television rights buyback costs.
Every conference that started a network, has had to deal with this.
Another interesting point is that Swofford mentions the distribution package. Right now the ACC/Raycom do a strong job of syndicating ACC games nationally. For a little history on that you can take a look at this Sports Business Journal article discussing Raycom’s distribution package.
The possibility does exist the ACC could lose some exposure in the short term. At the moment the syndicated games are typically over the air on free TV, but I’d be surprised if that exposure outweighs the potential monetary gains of a network. What I really think it means as is discussed here is that the ACC is at that point where their evaluations are weighing financial costs vs distribution exposure and the like. It is a measured evaluation as it should be.
If a network wasn’t going to happen, that would have already been decided in my opinion by ESPN and the ACC. This is not simple venture, but things are without question are moving forward.
There is still no reason to think that plans for a 2016 and more likely 2017 timeline for an ACC Channel startup has changed.