For the past year, members of the ACC have been living on edge. It’s been the conference voted “Most Likely To Be Raided By Other Leagues.” Money issues have been at the heart of the problem. As in: The ACC and its schools don’t make as much money as the other four major conferences.
Before shocking the world with an out-of-left-field grant of rights deal a few weeks ago, ACC commissioner John Swofford had to make a near perfect sales pitch to league members like Florida State. He did and all the conference’s schools signed on the dotted line.
Immediately, ACC fans (and some of us in the media) jumped to an awfully big conclusion — that the league would soon push forward a new ACC Network with ESPN. ESPN had already stepped in to offer a bit more cash to the conference long-term in order to fend off further conference realignment, but an additional network was seen as the league’s best chance to close the financial gap on rival conferences.
However, The SportsBusiness Journal reports today that the ACC has not bought back the media rights it’s already sold off to Raycom and Fox Sports Net. Those rights agreements run through 2027 and unless the ACC buys them back and turns them over to ESPN, there will be no new ACC Network.
This isn’t an oversight by the ACC, mind you. Everyone involved had to know that without those rights, no channel would be possible. Also, ESPN agreed to discuss the possibility of creating a network. It did not agree to actually launch such a network.
For that reason, the topic of a network was not a hot one at last week’s ACC meetings.
If no new network launches, ESPN has agreed to kick in enough money to get ACC schools into the $20 million range annually. At MrSEC.com, we’ve reported since last December that industry and SEC sources have told us that schools in Mike Slive’s conference could be making $30-35 million annually within a year or two of the launch of an SEC Network.
That network is already a done deal, thanks to a long-term agreement with ESPN. And before reaching that agreement, the SEC bought back all of its media rights — television and digital — in order to turn them over to ESPN for use with the network.
While the ACC’s membership is clearly in favor of sticking together — they wouldn’t have signed a binding grant of rights deal otherwise — the main problem for the league has a growing cash gap. Without an ACC Network, that will continue to be an issue for the schools in Swofford’s league moving forward.
Does this re-open Pandora’s Box when it comes to conference realignment? No. But it will probably give a lot of people reason enough to start writing about expansion again. We’re heading into the blah days of summer after all.