Fox's Clay Travis recently posted a ranking of the 15 most valuable sports networks. In the end he lists the Pac 12 Network as a cautionary tale. Although the network has decent reach, it doesn't generate high fees per household. Travis then mentions the ACC desire to have its own network. The chatter on the ACC Network is not new. However, it may be time to restart an old idea: a joint network between the ACC and Pac 12. Even if the ACC wants its own network, at least talking to the Pac 12 gives the conference leverage with ESPN and potential cable partners.
Before the Pac 10 expanded and formed its own network, there was speculation that the ACC and Pac 10 could join together to form their own sports network. At the time the Big Ten was the only major conference with its own network. The ACC instead took a then record payout from ESPN. Since that deal, the Pac 12 went ahead and formed its own network, the SEC finally launched theirs and Texas started the Longhorn Network with ESPN.
The ACC's spot in the negotiation cycle
Since BC joined the ACC, the conference has always signed record-breaking TV deals only to see other conferences get bigger deals and more control over their inventory. The ACC has done a few things -- like add Notre Dame -- to improve the deals, but the pattern remains. The ACC signs a deal only to see it outdated the minute the ink is dry.
ESPN and the ACC
The ACC has a great relationship with ESPN. The network currently controls all the inventory and distributes it across their channels and resells select games to Raycom. But at times it feels like ESPN takes the ACC for granted. They helped the SEC get its network off the ground. They still give prime early timeslots to the Big Ten. I understand that ESPN is running a business and wants ratings regardless of teams, but I feel at times that the ACC could be in some of those better slots and generate equal ratings. But because of the exclusive partnership, ESPN can put the ACC wherever they choose. If the ACC had other distribution partners (or its own network), the conference's scheduling and revenue leverage would be better. If the ACC goes ahead with its own network ESPN will be involved. But can the ACC get ESPN to make the network a priority, like the SEC Network is/was?
Why partner with the Pac 12 now?
The ACC and Pac 12 compliment each other in multiple ways. The spread of the schools from the Eastern timezone to the Pacific means games wouldn't compete for air time. The ACC also brings huge east coast TV markets. Getting together means this could be the first college network with national reach and national appeal for advertisers. (No more FoodLion or Bojangles.)
The other big benefit for partnering with the Pac 12 is that they've already done a lot of the heavy lifting. They have the TV studios. They have the reach. They have the satellite signals. Adding the ACC just allows them to return to those 90 million homes and drive new, more lucrative deals.
The final reason to partner with the Pac 12 on a TV deal is that it ties them to the ACC. With all the talk of the Power 5, there is still an underlying fear of teams breaking away or forming a Power 4. With the Pac 12 and ACC in a partnership, the two conferences can act together on issues like paying players, freshman eligibility and the football selection committee.
Since it already has its own deal, it might not make sense for the Pac 12 to partner with the ACC. But it does provide them with a chance to jump start their network. Even with a revenue split with the ACC, the Pac 12 could come out way ahead of where they are now.
Why talk is important
The ACC spurned the Pac 12 years ago, so why would they enter an agreement now? Especially when they are finally close to getting what they want: The ACC Network. I think the ACC will probably get their network this time. But ESPN could drag its feet. Cable operators could balk. By at least exploring a Pac 12 partnership as a threat, the ACC gets a little more leverage. ESPN would rather give the ACC what they want instead of having a true competitor in a national ACC-Pac 12 Net that ESPN doesn't control.
How this ends
I would love to see the ACC make a bold mover. But my fear is more of the same -- an outdated TV deal and a half-baked ACC Channel. But before they sign a new deal it wouldn't hurt to call the Pac 12.