Definitive plans for an ACC channel operated by ESPN have come to pass. A report from ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, citing anonymous sources, said that the channel will launch by Aug. 2019 and that the conference’s grant of media rights will be extended by nine years to 2035-36. A tweet from Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand said a digital-only “ACC Network Plus” will debut in August.
The development is a boost for the ACC, which has been attempting to keep up with the increases in media rights revenue by rival leagues, particularly the SEC and Big Ten. The ACC and ESPN have been in discussions for a dedicated ACC channel dating back at least to 2010.
Swofford, who has been highly guarded in comments about negotiations with ESPN over the years, will give his annual address at the ACC Kickoff media event in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday morning.
A launch had been thought possible for Aug. 2017, but ESPN may have interest in pushing it back. Last October, Georgia Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson made comments at an athletic association board meeting that ESPN wanted to “delay the start for a couple years and do the necessary preparation.”
Peterson also said that in exchange for a later start date, ESPN could make additional payments on top of the rights fees already being paid to the conference.
A network likely will provide ACC fans more access to football and men’s basketball games as well as other sports. For member schools, it will likely mean an increase in revenues. In 2014-15, SEC schools reportedly averaged $32.7 million in conference distribution, with the Big Ten just behind at $32.4 million. The ACC was third at $26.2 million. A new deal for the Big Ten is expected to push distributions above $50 million.
It would be meaningful for Tech, which is projecting a $2.4 million deficit for the 2017 fiscal year.
The implication of the extension of the grant of rights is that it will be virtually impossible for any of the 15 member schools to leave the conference for the next 20 years. That includes Notre Dame, which can remain independent for football but could only join the ACC if it chose to join a league for that sport over that time period.