Monday evening, multiple outlets reported that an ACC Network in partnership with ESPN is a reality, with an announcement likely to come at ACC Media Days later this week.
Digital, Digital, Digital
ESPN is hemorrhaging subscribers as cable customers who have no interest in sports find alternatives to subscribing to cable, with services like Netflix or Hulu being able to provide all their entertainment needs. Millennials are simply not subscribing in the numbers their parents did, leaving via the process known as “cord-cutting.”
The ability to reach the consumer on their terms (read: smart phones, tablets) and not just a TV network is key. To that end, the digital side launches in the fall of 2016, with the linear network coming in 2019.
How effective a traditional cable TV network will work is still to be seen, but sources have long said the focus on digital will be the key to the plan’s success, regardless of the traditional network. Some networks have found huge success (SEC, Big Ten), while others (Pac-12) have been comparative flops.
As someone who works in college sports media at the national level, however, I can attest that Pac-12 fans simply do not have the same passion in the same numbers as fans of other leagues, likely contributing to the Pac-12 Network failures.
Doing the digital first also could build an audience for the actual channel. If fans get used to watching their ACC teams on digital platforms, perhaps they’ll subscribe to the channel. Or maybe ESPN will flip ESPNU or ESPNNews to the ACC Network.
Relationship with ESPN now runs 20 years
The Grant of Rights is extended through 2035-36, which also means that if Notre Dame is to join a conference in that time, it must join the ACC. It also means there isn’t a way that an ACC school can feasibly leave the league in that time span.
"When the ACC Network revenues are included, the ACC will be very competitive with the upper tier [Big Ten and SEC] of the Power 5 leagues," a source said to ESPN
College football is in an arms race, and according to some, a bubble. Loading up on cash before any sort of potential crash is a smart move. FSU is one of the teams in the league actually trying to keep pace.
This is where having such strong basketball could also help, as it might not be appointment viewing (on couch in front of TV) but the ability to watch quality college hoops like the ACC offers while on the go might be nice for people, increasing viewership.
$$$, Part 2
ESPN would have to pay out $45M if it didn’t have a network plan in place by July. Will the ACC Network be a huge hit? I have no idea. But it’s probably better for ESPN to have one than to burn $45M on nothing each year.