The ACC is poised to launch a new network by August 2019, per a tweet from ESPN’s Brett McMurphy. The conference, which has been the source of network rumors over the past few years, will also extend its grant of rights through 2036.
The ACC is currently in a contract with ESPN that runs through 2026-2027, but the current deal has been well eclipsed by both the Big Ten and the SEC, which launched conference-exclusive cable channels. The announcement is expected when commissioner John Swofford meets the media on Thursday as part of the ACC football kickoff event.
Of the Power Five conferences, the ACC currently stands as the only league without some type of exclusive cable channel. Of the four other channels, two are in conjunction with the Worldwide Leader.
The SEC launched the SEC Network in 2014 as a joint venture with ESPN, while the University of Texas launched the Longhorn Network in 2011. Longhorn Network remains controversial because it’s owned by Texas but operated by ESPN, resulting in several instances where ESPN’s sought to air games in some capacity on the network’s air space but instead finds itself in the awkward position of working with the other Big XII schools.
Launching the ACC Network will do wonders for viewing audiences across the league. Not only will it bring in more revenue for the conference’s members, it’ll provide the teams with a television outlet for their games across all sports. Currently, games chosen by ESPN are televised on some of their other networks, including ESPNU, but the majority of games are on the ESPN3/WatchESPN platform.
Having an ACC-centric platform will allow more games across more sports to find their way to television providers. That can only help in league-wide recruiting and expose the brand to more national audiences. At the same time, the ACC Network will reportedly deliver innovative “over-the-top” content delivered via its Internet streaming capability, allowing for more inundation of the teams in all sports, whether it’s from a spring football game to a fall ball baseball game or winter-time basketball content for both men’s and women’s sports.
Beyond all of that, extending the grant of rights for the next 20 years essentially guarantees the league’s footprint for years to come. A grant of rights is written permission from league members to relinquish control of television rights for the duration of the deal.
If a school leaves the conference during the duration of the contract, it forfeits the earnings to be spread among the rest of the departing conference. That means that for the duration of the contract, the school’s media rights, including all revenue associated with it, remains with the ACC and not the new conference.
For the ACC member schools, this poses no inherent risk - with the one notable exception at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are an independent in football, meaning their conference affiliation (or lack thereof) is always a hot topic for realignment theorists and conversations. The grant of rights extension to 2036 effectively means Notre Dame must remain an independent or join the ACC as a conference member.
If Notre Dame were to join another conference, they would forfeit revenue to the ACC because of the grant of rights agreement.
The Fighting Irish are set to become an affiliated member of the Big Ten in hockey, but since the ACC does not sponsor hockey, they would not be impacted. The football program has its own contract with NBC.