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ESPN and ACC Detail Network for 2019 Launch

League will begin leveraging digital content in build-up to network’s kickoff.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC kicked off its media days on Thursday with the announcement long known to its legion of fans. Partnering with ESPN, the conference will launch its own network in time for the 2019 season. In addition, it extended the existing grant of rights agreement to 2036.

The roll-out to the debut of the ACC Network will begin next month with the debut of the “ACC Network Extra” digital component on ESPN’s existing platform for the league. Currently, ESPN is the ACC’s exclusive worldwide rights holder, broadcasting a number of events on its Internet streaming platform.

The ACC Network Extra feature will kick off a broadcast of over 600 exclusive live events from across the conference by utilizing the existing WatchESPN, ESPN3, and ESPN mobile app platforms, with the number growing each year. By 2019, the linear network will launch with a distribution list of more than 1,300 ACC events, per the release from ESPN.

That sets up the launch of the ACC Network, a cable television station that will feature 450 exclusive live events. ESPN’s release stated that the network will broadcast “40 regular-season football games, more than 150 men’s and women’s basketball games (and) more than 200 other regular-season contests and tournament games from across the conference’s 27-sponsored sports.”

The Network’s announcement leaves only the Big 12 without an exclusive channel for conference broadcasts. While the University of Texas collaborates with ESPN on the Longhorn Network, they alone own the network. As a result, Big 12 teams have been hesitant to move conference events to the channel, lest a competitor make television profit gains from a game in which they don’t compete.

As for the ACC, the move enhances the channel’s digital presence while working towards an even more secure future. The grant of rights extension ensures teams won’t leave the league without absorbing a major long-term financial blow. This will allow the conference to strengthen its current ranks without the volatility experienced during conference realignment.

Concurrently, the network will give the ACC a presence on par with the SEC on the ESPN family of networks. The SEC Network currently enables member institutions to broadcast a number of sports previously unseen on network television, and it’s helped increase the visibility of its programs throughout all of its sponsored sports.

But the ACC isn’t abandoning a commitment to digital content. Network television and content is moving towards a more Internet-based format, with more channels and companies offering subscription-based, Internet-only content. The advent of Hulu and Netflix has been enhanced through non-linear television networks like HBO Now and the WWE Network to provide access to libraries of content.

In building up its digital footprint, the ACC is allowing for an access to a number of both live and featured content, and the possibilities are incredible. The ACC’s shown a willingness to claim non-ACC histories of its member schools (advertising its Class of Legends usually includes players from a program’s non-ACC history), which means they can open the door to the years of content even to years before schools joined the league.

It all comes back to the current athletes, however. Having digital content online is great, especially as people gravitate towards a cord-cutting cable world, but placing more available content on television networks is where big money really comes to play.

The first year of the College Football Playoff and the SEC Network was 2014-15. The SEC that year alone reported over $527 million of revenue. That represented a 62% increase of revenue from the previous year. In terms of TV/radio rights fees, the SEC reported $311.8 million, an increase of over $100 million from the previous year. Although it didn’t specify sources of that revenue, that’s still an incredible number.

If the ACC can leverage the methods employed by the SEC, then improve on those styles with its own flair, the league stands to make a dump truck’s worth of money. In an era where college sports revenues are ballooning, being able to wet a whistle (or whet an appetite) into that type of money is a huge step forward.