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ACC Network Comes with Pros and Cons

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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To close the financial gap, the ACC will turn to its new television network, which is set to debut on Aug. 22.

Over the last five years, ACC football has largely closed the gap between themselves and the other elite football conferences (SEC and Big Ten). While the ACC did struggle during the regular season last year, it redeemed itself in bowl season, especially with Clemson winning the national title for the second time in three years.

But in terms of sports revenue, the ACC still lags behind the Power 5 conferences.

According to USA Today Sports reporter Steve Berkowit, based on the conference’s 2018 tax filings, the ACC raked in a little less than $465 million in 2018. Split between the 14 schools and Notre Dame, who received a small chunk because the Irish participate in the conference’s sports other than football, ACC schools received $29.5 million each from the conference’s revenue sharing.

That amount is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s on par with what the Pac-12 schools receive from their conference distribution. Big Ten and SEC schools received nearly 80 and 50 percent more than ACC programs, respectively, last year. On a per-school basis, the Big 12 beat the ACC in revenue sharing during 2018 as well.

This financial disparity won’t have a major impact immediately, but the ACC doesn’t want to fall behind in the sports revenue department, which is the money largely responsible for paying coaches’ salaries, building new practice facilities, constructing stadium and locker room upgrades and any other improvements needed to successfully recruit the top high school talent in the country.

To close this gap, the ACC will turn to its new television network, which is set to debut on Aug. 22.

The ACC is the last of the Power 5 conferences to launch a cable network, which could largely explain why the ACC is behind most of the other major conferences in terms of revenue. It’s not a coincidence that the SEC and Big Ten conferences have both the highest revenue on a per-school basis and the most popular television networks. Those cable networks play such a large role in each conference’s revenue sharing distribution.

Last summer, The News & Observer projected that once fully operational, the ACC Network should yield at least $10 million per school per year. That alone would bump the ACC well ahead of the Big 12 and Pac-12 and into the SEC’s neighborhood in terms of revenue sharing per school.

The only problem, though, is determining when the network will be fully operational. While DirecTV, Verizon Fios, Google Fiber, TVision, Optimum and Suddenlink are set to carry the ACC Network when it launches in about two weeks, many major cable providers will not, including Comcast, Dish Network and Charter according to The State.

That’s a problem. Without those providers, the ACC Network will have a limited audience and thus won’t yield each school $10 million. In July, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution concluded more recent estimates -- although still very conservative -- are closer to $1 million than $10 million for the network’s first season.

The ACC, as it should, is going to do what it can to create a demand for its television network, and the best way to do that is air premier conference games on the channel. In the first three weeks alone, the network will air these five conference tilts:

Georgia Tech at Clemson, Aug. 29, 8 pm
Virginia Tech at Boston College, Aug. 31, 4 pm
Virginia at Pitt, Aug. 31, 7:30 pm
Miami at North Carolina, Sept. 7, 8 pm
Florida State at Virginia, Sept. 14, 7:30 pm

The Seminoles will play on the ACC Network during Week 2 when they host Louisiana-Monroe and in Week 3 against Virginia. For that reason, Florida State athletic director David Coburn has urged Seminoles fans to pressure Comcast to come to terms with Disney on the ACC Network. Either that, or switch to a cable provider or a streaming service such as Hulu or YouTube TV that already carries the ACC Network.

It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds. With time, the ACC Network should become a household cable station, especially once basketball season arrives.

The network is the best way for the ACC to continue closing the revenue gap between themselves and the SEC/Big Ten. For that reason, going “all in” on the network as Florida State has should be expected.

But until the squabbling between conglomerates (mostly Disney and Comcast) ends, the fans are the ones who will suffer. Unless there’s a last-minute deal struck, not all Georgia Tech fans will catch new coach Geoff Collins’ debut, and ACC football fans could miss other key early-season conference games.