ACC focuses on TV

Staff WriterMay 9, 2010 

Now it's the ACC's turn.

Two summers ago, the SEC announced blockbuster TV deals with ESPN and CBS at a fortuitous time, just before the economy plunged into a deep recession.

Beginning today and continuing through Wednesday, conference and school officials from the ACC are holding their annual spring meetings at the Ritz-Carlton resort in Fernandina Beach, Fla.

And with the ACC's TV contracts with ESPN and Raycom Sports set to expire at the end of the 2010-11 athletic year, TV executives from the conference's current partners have been in negotiations for months.

A new broadcast rights deal could be announced as soon as this week. Because the economy has plunged, however, the new deal is not expected to be nearly as lucrative as the deal that pays the SEC an average of $205 million per year over 15 years.

But after bundling its football and basketball rights, the ACC is expected to increase the revenue it receives from TV. ACC tax records from 2007-08 - the most recent year available - show that the conference received TV rights payments totaling almost $40.6 million for football and $34.7 million for basketball.

That total of slightly more than $75 million accounted for 46 percent of the conference's total revenue for that fiscal year.

"I think the new deal will bring them more," said Ken Haines, the Charlotte-based president and CEO of Raycom Sports. "But how much more, no one knows at this point."

One bit of recent news is believed to have helped the ACC in negotiations with ESPN. The 14-year, $10 billion deal with CBS and Turner for the NCAA men's basketball tournament is believed to have left ESPN with a need for additional programming inventory, as well as, perhaps, extra money to spend.

The other big issue facing the ACC this week is expansion. ACC commissioner John Swofford said in March that the conference is comfortable with its current 12-school membership.

He said the conference isn't looking to change and didn't expect that possible expansion by the Big Ten and/or Pacific-10 would affect the ACC. Nevertheless, preparing to react to possible expansion will be an important topic this week for the ACC.

The Big Ten's next move is the key. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has said that it's too early to tell whether the conference will add one team to get to 12, or five teams to reach a membership of 16.

If it's one team, there might not be much movement nationally. If it's five, there could be a massive change in the college athletic landscape.

Delany appears to be sticking to the 12- to 18-month timetable he announced in December, so it might be a year or more before any expansion takes place. But officials from other conferences are reacting already.

The Big 12 and Pac-10 talked in Phoenix this week about an alliance for the purposes of negotiating TV contracts and scheduling, according to multiple published reports.

SEC commissioner Michael Slive said recently that the conference has no plans to ask anybody to join. (And who can blame the current 12 members for wanting to keep all that TV money to themselves?)

The Big Ten's situation is different. If the conference can add schools in new TV markets, it should be able to get the Big Ten Network on more cable systems and substantially increase revenue.

So everybody is waiting for the Big Ten to make the first move.

"That's the talk of the whole world," departing N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler said. "What's the Big Ten going to do? And of course, no one knows what the Big Ten is going to do."

That's why the biggest news coming out of the ACC meetings - if there is any - is likely to involve the conference's TV deal.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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