The Big Ten Network has been immensely profitable to league member schools. According to a recent article by Andy Bitter of the Virginian-Pilot, the network passes along somewhere around $7 million to league schools every year as part of the TV rights deal. It’s important to remember, however, that the BTN is currently the exception rather than the rule.
The Pioneering Mountain West Sports Network shut down in 2012 in part because the league itself was so volatile. The network’s footprint was a constantly moving target, as member schools leaped from stepping stone to stepping stone on the way up the realignment ladder. The Pac-12 Network is doing battle with DirecTV and having trouble turning a profit. The SEC Network debuts in 2014, and any notion of a Big 12 Network seems to be completely subservient to the already extant Longhorn Network.
So would the expanded ACC be willing to jump into such uncertain waters? Certainly. But Bitter’s article does an excellent job pointing out the potential obstacles any such venture would face:
- Deals in place: The ACC is already partnered with ESPN, and the cable network is entitled to show the premiere matchups, including the immense Duke/UNC hoops matchups. Regional TV deals with Fox (which ties into YES Network) and Raycom also would reduce the number of games available to be shown on any theoretical ACC Network.
- Cable companies: Not only does a league-only network have to get cable companies to assign a channel to carry their programming, but they have to negotiate how much money they get out of the deal. Media consultant Neal Pilson told Bitter “If you get 100 percent distribution and 5 cents per channel, it’s not going to work.” The Pac-12’s battle with DirecTV is evidence of just how combative such negotiations can become.
- Questionable market saturation: The ACC covers some large media markets already (though Maryland’s defection hurt), and the addition of Syracuse is supposedly going to give the league an entree into the massive NYC market. Just because New Yorkers happily tuned in to watch the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden in years past doesn’t mean that love will transfer to regular-season matchups.
The positives are numerous as well. The ACC gained a significant edge by securing a grant of media rights from the league’s current and future members. That’s a sign of stability that can’t be ignored. The league’s YouTube channel has been more successful than any other league’s as well, which could be a good indicator of future interest.
The SEC Network’s upcoming debut will probably give us some indication of where the ACC might turn. If the SEC can make it work with ESPN’s help, it can at least provide some hint of whether the ACC can do the same. Obviously, however, the SEC’s football brand is far more valuable than the ACC’s, and that’s the real driver of payouts in this business model.
Will an ACC Network happen? Maybe. But not soon, it seems.