ACC channel launch facing delay

The launch of an ACC network run in partnership with ESPN, which has been expected for 2017, will likely take longer than expected.

The cable giant has asked for the delay, according to Georgia Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson, who made the statement at last week’s Georgia Tech Athletic Association quarterly board meeting. Conversations between the league and network are ongoing. The conference and network have discussed partnering on a dedicated ACC channel at least five years.

“(ESPN) had come back and said that in some of the other instances where (conference) networks have started, they lost considerable amounts of money in the first couple of years,” Peterson said. “What they’d like to do is delay the start for a couple years and do the necessary preparation.”

In exchange for a later start date, ESPN could make additional payments on top of the rights fees already paid to the conference, Peterson said. The conference signed an extension with ESPN in 2012 to continue their partnership through the 2026-27 academic year, a deal that was renegotiated with the addition of Notre Dame later that year and a grant of rights agreement in 2013.

The league reportedly received $197.2 million in TV revenues in 2013-14. While the average distribution to full league members of $19.3 million distribution was considerable, it lagged behind the Big Ten ($26.4 million), Pac-12 ($21 million), SEC ($20.9 million) and Big 12 ($19.8 million).

It is a significant reason why the ACC and member schools are interested in their own network, similar to cable channels for the Big Ten and SEC. Both conferences have seen television revenues increase dramatically after the start of their networks. This past May, for instance, the SEC projected revenues of $31.2 million per school for the 2014-15 fiscal year, a 49 percent jump from the previous year due in no small part to the launch of the SEC Network in 2014.

“Anything said surrounding our ongoing television discussions is premature and speculative,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “If, or when, we reach a point where our television agreements have been altered, we will make an announcement at the appropriate time.”

Evidently, the request to delay from 2017 is a result of ESPN’s desire to properly time the launch of an ACC channel, wanting to ensure broad distribution with cable operators.

The Big Ten Network faced distribution challenges early on, as it was carried by a limited number of cable providers for the first year of its existence. Likewise, the Pac-12 Networks have had distribution issues of their own.

The SEC Network, with its conference’s rabid following, didn’t have the same troubles, as demands by fans to cable and satellite companies to add the network led to broad distribution from the network’s inception.

Perhaps the league’s strongest selling point to ESPN is its footprint, which extends almost the entire length of the Eastern seaboard and into the Midwest with Notre Dame. Two years ago, the league claimed the highest population (107 million) and most television households (38 million) within its footprint of any conference in the country, an area that includes major markets such as New York, Washington, Boston, Miami and Atlanta.

It probably helps, too, that Florida State and Clemson’s football teams have grown stronger in recent seasons and that the league’s basketball teams remain as powerful as ever.

Regardless, a channel dedicated to the ACC will have to wait a few more years.

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