CRAWFORD | Bank shot: ACC hoping 20-game hoops schedule will pus - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Bank shot: ACC hoping 20-game hoops schedule will push distribution of new ACC Network

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ACC commissioner John Swofford announces a deal to launch the ACC Network in 2019. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) ACC commissioner John Swofford announces a deal to launch the ACC Network in 2019. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WDRB) -- It was football media day for the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the biggest breaking news was in basketball.

Commissioner John Swofford confirmed what already had leaked out several days ago -- the long-awaited ACC Network will become a reality in 2019, thanks to an agreement with ESPN. But the assembled media didn't have to wait long to learn one of the major ramifications of the new media arrangement.

The ACC men's basketball schedule will go from 18 to 20 games in 2019, providing more valuable "inventory" for the ACC Network. A 20-game schedule will allow league teams to play six ACC opponents twice, with the other eight games split home and road among the rest of the teams in the league.

While football drives most of these media moves, Swofford said he expects basketball to be a more valuable media property than hoops deals other leagues have struck. Where it particularly should help is in distribution. Just putting together a cable channel doesn't automatically bring in revenue. The channel must be picked up by cable providers around the nation. The ACC Network should have no problem in the Southeast, and with Boston College and Syracuse, along with Notre Dame in all sports but basketball, should be in strong position in the northeast and Midwest.

"I think basketball will probably help us with distribution," Swofford said. "And I think, too, ACC fans want to see all the other sports, there are niches and they are very interested in it. The collective brand is very strong."

ESPN expects to televise an additional 150 basketball games and 40 more football games in the first season of the agreement.

ESPN president John Skipper said he doesn't anticipate difficulty selling the network nationally.

"We at ESPN are proud to be the ACC's partner," he said. ". . . We will create value for our distributors, and effective platform for advertisers and financial benefit for ESPN and the ACC. . . . I have complete confidence in our ability to launch this network with national distribution, and create a significant asset for ESPN and a superlative showcase for the ACC."

ACC coaches discussed a 20-game league schedule during the most recent league meetings at Amelia Island, Fla., in May.

Summing up the reaction of many, North Carolina coach Roy Williams told the Raleigh News & Observer then, "We play a pretty doggone significant non-conference schedule. We play Kentucky, we’ve played Connecticut, we’ve played Arizona – we’re always going to do those kinds of things. . . . Everybody says you want to have more inventory of big-time games, so play more conference games. But if we play more conference games, I’m not going to play all those non-conference games, too.”

No ACC basketball coaches attended Thursday's announcement.

"We did have a number of men's basketball coaches that wanted to be in attendance," Swofford said. "With the final recruiting period starting yesterday, they are doing what they should be doing and what they do very well, and that is recruiting."

U of L coach Rick Pitino said he didn't have an initial reaction to the schedule change. He said he missed the ACC meetings in May where it was discussed, to attend the funeral of Howard Garfinkel.

He did say that he welcomed the addition of an ACC Network.

"Having an ACC Network will not only enhance our earning power, but will take the visibility for the nation's strongest basketball conference to greater heights."

FOOTBALL SCHEDULE OPEN FOR DEBATE

The other key inventory point for the ACC could be football. Discussions about moving from an 8-game to a 9-game schedule have been held from time to time, with coaches for the most part resisting the move to an extra game.

Swofford said that subject is likely to be revisited.

"We could, and we have revisited that several times over the last, I don't know, 6 of 8 years," he said. "But right now it's eight. It could change, but it hasn't changed at this point."

U of L football coach Bobby Petrino said the network would bring added exposure to the football program and others at U of L, so he welcomes it. He'll meet the media in Charlotte on Friday.

NON-REVENUE SPORTS SHOULD BENEFIT

Once basketball season ends, college baseball has taken center stage for the SEC Network, and with the national caliber programs in the ACC, it figures to be an attractive programming choice.

U of L baseball coach Dan McDonnell was in Charlotte for the announcement Thursday, and said, "Having that Cardinal logo on TV more can only help. . . . That baseball block is a long block. We can definitely help fill air time with three-hour baseball games. But for those sports that can knock it out in an an hour and a half, that brand on TV, for people to access across the world, and we have a lot of international students on campus, it can only help."

Skipper noted that ESPN broadcast 1,500 women's basketball games across its platforms last year, and that exposure for women's sports is one of the highlights of any network agreement in college sports today.

Louisville volleyball coach Anne Kordes said the chance for her program to be seen more often, and for its facility, the KFC Yum! Center, to get more of a showcase, should help not only the sport, but her recruiting.

“It’s very exciting that we’ll see more female athletes regularly on national television and have an opportunity for our fan base to grow," she said. "It changes the game in recruiting.  You want to sell your program and culture.  Those aren’t always things that you can write on a note card and send in the mail.  You want kids to see you play and see what your program is like.  This network opens up more opportunities for people to see us play."

SCHOOLS WILL HAVE TO INVEST IN TECHNOLOGY

The move to an ACC Network will require video production upgrades for many programs in the league, and Louisville is no exception. But the infrastructure is in place. U of L spent nearly $1 million for a production truck before its move into the league, and has a studio built in the Mark & Cindy Lynn Soccer Stadium, though it will have to equip that studio. Because it doesn't have a journalism or broadcasting major, U of L hasn't had much of that infrastructure in place.

U of L also has the ability to lay high-quality underground fiber from a production facility to many of its venues along Floyd Street, having built a framework for that during various construction projects. Over the next couple of years, the school will be making video upgrades, but should be in no hurry to do so.

Technology is changing so quickly that to make many purchases three years out probably isn't a smart move.

MONEY STILL UNKNOWN

Swofford and Skipper were particularly tight-lipped about specific dollar amounts for the deal, and with the launch not coming until 2019, an estimate may be difficult to lock down.

After evading several questions about specifics of the deal, Skipper told reporters, "We will  be consistently obfuscatory about what the financials of this arrangement are."

One of the biggest aspects of this deal is the stability it brings to the ACC. Presidents of ACC schools had to approve an extension of their grants of media rights to the ACC through the 2036 season. That commits all of the media rights for a school to the ACC, even if the school leaves the league. Effectively, it locks in the current membership -- including Notre Dame in all sports but football. The agreement also added a provision from Notre Dame whereby, if the school decides to join any conference, it will join the ACC.

Clemson president JIm Clements said the vote of ACC presidents to extend those media rights was unanimous.

The existing syndication deal with Raycom for football and basketball will remain in place until 2019, when it is replaced by the network. This likely will mean the end of locally-broadcast live sports events for ACC programs. U of L's current local media rights are split by the Raycom-owned WAVE and WHAS-TV.

Beginning next month, the ACC and ESPN will launch a digital platform called ACC Network Plus, which will broadcast live sports events on both ESPN3 and The ACC's Digital Network. 

In the network's first season, 2019-20, ESPN estimates that it will televise more than 1,300 live ACC events across it TV and digital platforms.

"There has been an abundance of hard work invested in this venture, particularly from Commissioner John Swofford," U of L athletic director Tom Jurich said. "We have worked closely with ESPN so we may plan to successfully launch this platform and have the network flourish.  This is a terrific next step in the branding of the ACC and Cardinal Athletics.  We look forward to working with the ACC and our television partner to develop exciting ACC programming for fans everywhere.”

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