Tuesday, November 10, 2015
How the ACC's dumb Raycom deal turned out to be smart
During the last ACC TV rights deal, ESPN bought the rights to all the conference's content. However, the old guard on Tobacco Road didn't want to leave their long-time media partner Raycom out of the package. So all agreed that ESPN would resell certain games back to Raycom for Raycom to then produce and distribute. (When you see the ACC Games on regional sports networks or your local broadcast station, those are Raycom productions.)
At the time many critics found the Raycom deal outdated and provincial. The ACC was keeping old friends happy at the expense of more dollars from ESPN and should have spent that energy pushing for its own ACC Network. ESPN didn't care. They got to resell games and reserved the right to all the content if and when the ACC put together a plan for the ACC Network. Basically the ACC Network couldn't happen during this contract without ESPN's involvement.
But I don't think anyone truly anticipated the rush to cord cutting. Cable companies are bleeding traditional subscribers and ESPN is suffering from it. ESPN's rights fees and those expensive Network deals with Texas and the SEC are partially to blame. With a cloudy future and questionable business model the ACC Network seems less likely by the day.
But that is where the Raycom deal comes back into play. Because of that deal, the ACC is the only Power 5 conference with a traditional "over the air" syndicated distribution package [UPDATE: I forgot to mention the SEC's CBS deal. So the ACC is the only Power 5 where their secondary games are syndicated over the air. Pac 12's Fox deal is based on Fox powering their Network. All ABC games are part of ESPN cable deals. Notre Dame is not in a conference.]. You don't have to worry about cord cutting when there is no cord to cut. By having a traditional model for games the ACC/Raycom can sell advertisers consistent ratings and a growing audience. Right now the typical ACC Raycom advertiser is Carolina-centric (Bojangles, Food Lion, etc.) but that will change. I imagine the growing footprints and over the air aspect will get more national ads in the next few years.
The Raycom games that are not over the air, are carried on regional sports networks (Fox Sports Whatever, NESN, etc.). This is also good for distribution. Those networks are not going away immediately and need content on late fall Saturdays after baseball ends. They are exposed to cord cutters but are not as controversial or as expensive as the new college network startups or any of the ESPN channels.
Would the ACC like to have the SEC's or Big Ten's money right now? Of course. But what was once the table scrapes of the college football media world, now looks a whole lot better than it did at deal time. I still think there will be an ACC Network in the future, but I think the Raycom experience will change the way the channel is created and distributed.