You remember why all of this conference realignment stuff happened, right? Television markets, larger shares of revenue, and for the ACC and the other major conferences, dedicated networks to call their own. With the Grant of Rights agreement and the nine-game schedule talk, etc., it did only seem like a matter of time until the ACC received its own branded cable property that would net all the conference's schools (Syracuse included) a boatload of cash.
Well, that sort of happened today... just without the boatload of cash. Sure, the "ACC channel" is still affiliated with ESPN, but not in the way we'd hoped. Y'know all those frustrating nights of trying to get a clear picture on WatchESPN? It's basically that. And even worse, we're not the only conference getting that treatment...
The channels can be streamed to television via Apple TV or Roku, and they will feature live men's and women's college basketball games and replays of college football games. With conference basketball tournaments on the horizon, ESPN is offering a platform for most Division I conferences around the country. Those included are the ACC, America East, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Big West, MEAC, SWAC, CIA, Horizon, MAC, MAAC, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Southern, Sun Belt and Southland. ESPN plans on broadcasting more than 2,000 live men's and women's games during conference tournaments.
Obviously, the main driver here is basketball and the conference tournaments, so that's all well and good, but this does sort of paint our current conference as a second-class citizen compared to the other four major conferences (all of which are exempt from this due to their own current or pending network deals already, by the way). The release mentions that come the fall, non-revenue sports and even some football will be tossed onto these channels though, which is where the worry comes in...
What if this works? What if ESPN can just casually toss all of these league properties onto streaming channels, all for a lower cost and not have to charge consumers a dime (at least upfront)? As the only "power conference" without a network to call its own, this is a critical blow to the ACC in that case. Without those revenues, the gap between the ACC and the other major leagues would widen. We'd see more of Syracuse's (football) games relegated to the online channel. ESPN would have no motivation to go all-in on an ACC Network if this venture is a success, because it would just cost them more money and give them another thing to argue with cable and satellite providers about.
... Or maybe I'm just worrying over nothing? No, this doesn't KILL the idea of a stand-alone ACC Network, but it certainly diminishes that possibility a bit. In the short term, it's not the end of the world. But I'm highly concerned about what this could mean in terms of future conference stability, our place in the college sports landscape and the ACC overall.
What about you, though? Fretting? Don't care? Waiting for more facts to arise? Pontificate in the comments...
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