Much of the speculation surrounding last week's ACC Spring Meetings in Amelia Island, Florida centered around the possibility of the conference forming its own television network. Now enjoying long-term stability that comes with the league's grant-of-rights agreement, league officials entered into exploratory talks with ESPN about forming its own network.
According to the Sports Business Daily's Michael Smith & John Ourand, the idea of an ACC Network might be D.O.A. before it ever even gets off the ground.
"Don't expect an ACC-branded TV channel to be launched any time soon.
The biggest problem so far is a rights issue. ESPN needs to control the conference's syndicated rights to launch a channel. But those rights are tied up until 2027 through deals with Raycom and Fox Sports Net.
"There's no way an ACC network co-exists with a syndicated model," said Chris Bevilacqua, a media consultant who worked with the Pac-12 to form a league network. "They're going to have to get those rights back."
I can't imagine Raycom and Fox Sports Net will give up syndication rights on the cheap, so the league will be forced to buy back those rights at a premium before entertaining thoughts of starting its own ACC Network. Those syndication rights likely make the formation of a joint venture ESPN/ACC Network cost prohibitive to even start.
However, it's not all bad news for the conference. Should ESPN pass on forming an ACC Network, which I imagine they will, the conference will get a bump in its media rights payout. ESPN saying 'no' to a channel would increase the compensation to the ACC, pushing the per-school average close to $20 million. That would be up from about $18 million per year today.
Despite the ACC boasting the most TV households in its footprint of any other league, it would appear that conference has missed the window of opportunity for forming its own league network. With the per-school financial windfall that comes from the BTN, SEC Network and PAC-12 Network deals, this feels like a loss in the short-term when compared to other peer programs and conferences.
But longer-term, as other disruptive models mature and with the difficulties these conferences are having gaining carriage on cable providers, I'm not so sure. I'd much rather have the conference focus on ways of better distributing and monetizing content through other channels -- online, mobile, etc. -- instead of following the 'me too' approach and chasing the dream of having your own cable network.