It seems like everyone these days has their own cable television station. Hitting the GUIDE button on your remote transports you into a listing of every possible special interest. As Ron Burgundy would say (SPOILER ALERT LINK IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ANCHORMAN 2), "The market has gotten quite saturated."
In sports alone, there's a ton of ESPN channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, ESPNU, and ESPN Classic, not counting online streaming), the Longhorn Network (a partnership between Texas and ESPN), SEC Network (also partnered with ESPN), CBS, CBS Sports, CBS College, Fox, Fox Sports 1, Fox College Sports, Fox Sports Network, Comcast Sports Network, NBC, NBC Sports Network, the Big Ten Network, Brigham Young Religious Network, among others.
Despite all of these channels, the ACC does not have its own station. The ACC Network is a syndication of ACC-branded broadcasts partnered with regional networks through the company Raycom Sports. Prior to this season, the recognition of broadcast historically carried only the local channels within media markets of its conference membership. For example, those of us living in Boston could watch the conference broadcast of the week on MyTV 38 (formerly UPN) or NESN depending on the sport and time of year.
Starting in 2012, the ACC began expanding its sports coverage across multiple sports, including lacrosse, baseball, and soccer. With the content expansion complete, the league is now reaching across multiple homes to expand its footprint and bring the league through a viral set of stations to homes across America.
In a statement released ahead of its conference media days, the Atlantic Coast Conference boldly announced that ACC games will be seen this year in 80% of all households in the United States, a number of roughly 90 million households. The league will have a footprint now in every top ten media market and 21 of the top 25.
Let's talk about that number. Being able to reach 90 million households is something that is beyond impressive. Just a few years ago, the league had a footprint under 30 million, and it was pretty much available only if your hometown team was a member. In fact, that geographical holding was part of the reason why the ACC recruited certain teams during the very first round of NCAA realignment. During the early 2000s poaching of Big East teams, the ACC originally looked at Syracuse, a team with a foothold to the New York media market. When they then got Boston College, the league received a market ranked well within the top 10 of the United States.
That was in the era well before online and Internet streaming became mainstream. In the modern era, the concept of needing a footprint in a geographic area is becoming slightly more archaic. Someone in New York City might be able to turn on the television and see a particular game, but the advent of ESPN3 online and the multi-use channels like Goal Line allow for stations to jump to any game at any time.
Every major league has its own network. While the Big XII doesn't have its own "network," it does have Longhorn Network, and the SEC partnered up with the Worldwide Leader in the same way. The Pac-12 and Big Ten run their own networks. So the ACC is making itself available in almost every major area of the country through its partnership with Raycom Sports.
The ACC has a contract with ESPN that places its featured game in prime location on the Worldwide Leader's different stations. Being on ABC national television is what's afforded to the best ACC game of the week. Being in primetime or on ESPN2 or even ESPN proper is something that does come, even if there is a little bit of competition within the network with SEC or Big Ten games for those spots. But there are always going to be games like North Carolina vs. Georgia Tech - highly entertaining games with recognizable brands that aren't necessarily at the top of the league.
ESPN and ABC will always carry the top demanded game, but if you tune into Big Ten network, you'll see the #5-ranked Michigan Wolverines pasting a MAC special. You'll see a league game like Minnesota against Northwestern when only one team is ranked or both teams rank lower in the polls. And more than once, you'll see a game like NC State vs. Boston College or Virginia Tech play out on the lower card game of the week.
Making these games available to the masses is huge because it increases the possibility of advertising revenue and national exposure. It helps with recruiting by making the teams available where they never were. And in keeping up with the partnerships between the other networks, this separates the ACC and infringes them on the territories that maybe were held by other leagues, blurring the lines formerly held by the Power Five leagues and others. After all, it would've been great to watch an ACC-branded, high-definition production for BC-New Mexico State and not that Godforsaken Aggievision.
Does this mean the ACC will have 90 million potential viewers? Absolutely not. Raycom Sports will need to negotiate with all cable providers throughout all of these markets. This is merely an upper limit for the network. You'll have to note that the SEC Network can claim a reach of 75 million but has only negotiated a deal with AT&T U-Verse, having yet negotiated with the highly lucrative DirecTV or Dish Network. Even ESPN struggled to sell Longhorn Network in Texas, and it was branded with the state university.
What this represents is an ambitious leap and jump for this league, one that will make it nationally recognized. It has the Heisman Trophy and it has the national champion. It has some really great, exciting football, and great entertainment exists through the other sports. College baseball is big in certain areas of the country, and lacrosse is a growing sport. College soccer is turning into a solid feeder system with the ever-growing footprint and popularity of Major League Soccer. Having the chance to make your product accessible separates you entirely from the pack, something not lost on the ACC and something that is exciting to think about as BC continues to grow its brand both in Massachusetts and across the US.