Acc Falling Behind In Television Revenue Race?

Colleges

July 14, 2009|By Andrew Carter | Andrew Carter,Tribune Newspapers

One of the forces behind the Atlantic Coast Conference's decision in 2003 to expand was the conference's desire to increase its television revenue, which in turn would increase the bank accounts of its member institutions, including Maryland.

The league, with deep roots in North Carolina and the mid-Atlantic states, added attractive media markets with Boston College and Miami and, initially, expansion paid off. In 2004, the ACC sold its football broadcasting rights to ABC and ESPN for $260 million over seven years.

That contract will expire after the 2010 football season and as its end nears it pales in comparison to the recent deal struck by the Southeastern Conference, which agreed last summer to a 15-year partnership with ESPN and CBS worth a combined $3 billion.

The ACC, whose region includes part of the SEC's territory, has to play catch-up. The league's commissioner, John Swofford, said negotiations for a new TV contract - which will also include rights to air the conference's basketball games - could begin soon, though he declined to set a specific timetable. All of the league's TV contracts expire after the 2010-11 season.

"We've got two years left on our current agreements and usually the last conference that has negotiated raises the bar. And I think that generally has been the case," Swofford said.

Asked whether he is confident the ACC could match or exceed the SEC's deal - the richest in the history of college athletics - Swofford said, "Well, I don't know."

"Certainly, we would hope," he said. "But every situation's a little different. Every circumstance is a little different. Timing is different. The marketplace can be different depending on when you're negotiating and when you come to an agreement. So we'll see.

"We've done well with our television contracts in the past and certainly hope that that will continue and I would have an expectation that that would continue."

The league is still waiting for other expectations surrounding expansion to come to fruition. No ACC football team since expansion has competed for a national title. Florida State and Miami, both of which dominated college football in the 1980s and '90s, have recently languished in mediocrity.

And while the ACC has been good top to bottom - 10 of its teams competed in bowl games after the 2008 season - its lack of dominance might hurt the conference during TV contract negotiations.

Swofford hasn't ruled out the possibility of the ACC's launching its own TV network, similar to the Big Ten's Big Ten Network, which is partially owned by Fox. The Big Ten Network, according to reports, has been profitable despite the slumping economy, which has hit media companies particularly hard.

"I think everything is on the table," Swofford said when asked whether the league might pursue developing its own network. "We're not far enough along at this point to really answer that question other than to tell you we'll be open-minded in what we consider and what we look at."

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