Dedicated channel is final frontier for ACC
Posted July 22, 2014
The Atlantic Coast Conference wrapped up their annual "Kickoff" media event in Greensboro Monday with a new sense of swagger, eschewing the typical fluffy marketing points meant to prop up the brand. Florida State had their BCS National Championship hardware and reigning Heisman Trophy winning quarterback providing tangible results. The Seminoles are legitimate candidates to repeat and Clemson represents a viable opportunity for two conference teams to make the new College Football Playoff.
There was a record amount of credentialed media for ACC Kickoff, including nearly 20 different radio shows. Realignment no longer cast a shadow over the proceedings with the conference fully entrenched in the "Power 5" and ongoing NCAA autonomy discussions. Commissioner John Swofford was at ease during his "State of the ACC" on Sunday, pleased with where the ACC is positioned going into the next chapter of college athletics. Even the local coaches put up with our selfie shenanigans.
But some folks couldn't leave well enough alone. They couldn't be chill and enjoy the laid back atmosphere provided by the Grandover Resort, which is a welcome break for some national media types who make the trip following the insanity of SEC media days. No, they had to compare the two events and conferences.
In fairness, the image does a good job highlighting how low key the ACC media event is compared to the SEC. However, is having a lobby filled with crazy fans for a non-event specifically designed to help the media create preview content for the upcoming season something every conference strives to duplicate? Not really.
The SEC has skewed the perception of what is acceptable for other conferences to the point where otherwise intelligent members of the media resort to saying illogical things on social media.
For starters, SEC coaches were doing their annual carwash for ESPN. The same carwash will happen for ACC coaches next week. Secondly, did Thamel forget the SEC media event took place in Hoover, Alabama? The location didn't stop anyone from covering it over the span of four days. Thamel's attempt to troll was devoid of any rational thought. Besides, ESPN is doing what any good content machine would do by ramping up their promotion for the new SEC Network.
The SEC, in partnership with ESPN, hopes to create a new revenue stream with that channel. It's the same concept the Big Ten implemented on their own years ago, which has given them a license to print money thanks to cable/satellite subscriber rates. The channel partnership with ESPN is something the ACC hopes to replicate soon in order to keep up with the football Joneses, but right now the ACC is in wait-and-see mode as ESPN works through launching the SEC Network.
If Swofford is Link from "The Legend of Zelda," the ACC channel would be his Master Sword. The commissioner already has his shield, arrows and bombs in the form of third tier rights, Florida State being "back" and Notre Dame's partial membership. But that channel is the final piece of equipment needed to finally defeat the ACC's ongoing perception woes.
Unfortunately for Swofford, the commissioner has two issues to work through before the ACC hits your channel guide. Both are out of his control.
The SEC Network has signed agreements with Comcast, AT&T, Dish Network and Cox. Time Warner Cable and DirecTV are considered forgone conclusions to sign similar deals before the start of the football season. ESPN will no doubt look at this as a roaring success, but are they confident a similar rollout can be achieved with the ACC? The footprint isn't as rabid as the SEC base and providers will have to stomach another dollar-per-subscriber to the overall bill.
"Some of it is wait and see because ESPN's primary focus has been getting the SEC channel off the ground," Swofford explained to 99.9FM The Fan. "It's not dormant in terms of our conversations with ESPN. As we've said from the beginning, it will probably be two to three year process to make a determination for if and when we go that route."
And that gets us to the other issue facing a potential ACC channel. Internet and mobile are disrupting the way we watch television. Throw in the consolidation of distributors and it's impossible to predict how sports fans will consume media in the next five years.
"While we're going through this exercise, that world can change," Swofford conceded. "We need to make our own decision, along with our partner ESPN, for what's best for the longer term future."
Potential government intervention that would allow à la carte options, where viewers could customize their cable/satellite channels, could also negatively impact these conference-specific channels in terms of how much money they'd generate.
The WWE recently launched their own streaming network in February, bypassing cable and satellite, for $9.99 a month. The WWE's stated goal was one million subscribers by the end of 2014. According to reports, the network currently has over 650,000. Go ahead and do the math. It's not bad, but the WWE would be making more off the millions of subscribers who passively pay for it in their cable/satellite bill.
However, the WWE is banking on audiences cutting the cord the same way some have done with Netflix and Hulu. It could very well be the future of how we consume media, but it's not there yet. To the conference's credit, they recognize the shifting television landscape and have made sure every ACC game will be available on some sort of platform. They've also made the Digital Network adaptive to social media trends and is available on devices like AppleTV and Roku.
All of that is great for fans, but every conference's goal is to make money off their product. So how does the ACC take care of the bottom line? If anyone figures that out, Swofford is ready to take your meeting.