Report: ACC TV deal nets $1.86B

John Swofford

CLEMSON -- ACC officials gathered at Amelia Island, Fla. for conference meetings two weekends ago under converging storm fronts.

There were whispers of conference realignment, the SEC looming to the west wielding unprecedented power and influence, and a new television contract being negotiated in the aftermath of a severe recession.

Despite the unfavorable conditions, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips returned from the island last week saying he felt "pretty good" -- and for good reason.

The ACC has reached a $1.86 billion, 12-year deal with ESPN to broadcast football and basketball, according to the Sports Business Journal.

While the media outlet told The Post and Courier a "handshake" agreement was reached last week, the sources on the report were anonymous. ACC commissioner John Swofford said Monday no deal had been finalized.

"Television negotiations continue to progress," Swofford said. "Once we arrive at a final end point, we will release the appropriate details. At this point it would still be premature."

Provided the deal is finalized, and the numbers are accurate, the deal will pay out $155 million per year, more than doubling the previous rights fees that averaged $68.8 million the last seven years.

Though the reported deal does not place the ACC on the same financial footing as the SEC, which receives $205 million per year, the dollars surprised analysts and the deal closes the gap in buying power related to the coaching and facility arms races.

"It's not quite SEC or Big Ten level, but it's really good for the ACC," said John Ourand, a reporter for the Sports Business Journal who spoke with The Post and Courier on Monday. "It was more than most people thought they were going to get.

"The money surprised me. After several down years, I didn't think the ACC was in position to double its rights fees."

ACC members' television-related revenues will increase from $6 million to $12.9 million per year, welcomed news at Clemson where revenues have fallen $4 million compared to this point last year, and where officials anticipate the program will post a deficit in 2010-11.

The ACC and Clemson should perhaps be thankful another suitor that flew into the island's municipal airport last week: FOX executives who sparked a bidding war with ESPN.

"Originally, ESPN was down to $120 million, playing hardball," Ourand said. "Then FOX came in. ESPN didn't want FOX to get it. The big story for me is that FOX came in as heavy as it did."

The ACC was also aided by several other factors.

--The conference's current television contracts for basketball and football where purposely negotiated to end together in 2010-11 so they could be bundled together, adding value and leverage.

--The ACC's deals end a year before the Big 12's and Pac 10's television deals expire, allowing for a deal with ESPN before it perhaps became saturated with college content.

--Also, ESPN recently lost out in bidding for the NCAA Tournament, freeing additional cash.

The recession appeared to have little effect on the value of the contract.

"I'd say the recession didn't have any impact," Ourand said.

While the ACC surprised with the dollars generated in its new deal, might it be too long? After all, rights fees for live sporting events have grown exponentially during the last decade.

For example, the ACC's previous football rights were for seven years and $258 million, taking effect in 2003.

"It's live events, American Idol has tapped into that, live sports," Ourand said. "I watch 24 and DVR it every week. You can't really do that to a sporting event, or American Idol. … (Sports fans) are also so much more passionate than viewers of Desperate Housewives. … (With sports) you hit the young male demographics that other (programs) haven't in years."

Swofford appeared to have accomplished something else with the deal, too.

Swofford told The Post and Courier earlier this year he preferred to negotiate in front of the SEC in the next round of contract negotiations.

The ACC's new deal expires after the 2022-23 seasons.

The SEC's deal expires in the 2025 fiscal year.

As for the broadcast slots, Ourand reported ESPN will continue to air ACC football on Thursday nights, and Saturday afternoon and night games will be broadcast on ABC. The deal also keeps the valuable North Carolina-Duke basketball games on ESPN.

Longtime partner Raycom Sports is expected to continue airing football and basketball games by "sub-licensing" from ESPN, according to the report. The ACC Sports Journal reports the syndication package with Raycom will be called the ACC Network.

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks.