The ACC and ESPN announced a 15-year contract Wednesday that increases the conference’s media revenue by approximately 30 percent.
Neither network nor league officials revealed financial terms, but a source close to the negotiations said the deal is worth $3.6 billion. That translates, on average, to $17 million annually for each of the ACC’s 14 schools.
In 2010, the conference and ESPN signed a 12-year contract valued at $1.86 billion, or $12.9 million annually for each school. The parties renegotiated in light of Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining the ACC.
An additional $4.1 million in each of the next 15 years figures to $61.5 million per school. To place in context, Virginia and Virginia Tech reported 2010-11 athletics expenses of $72.4 million and $56.8 million, respectively, to the U.S. Department of Education.
“So many of us are really stretching to keep up with increased costs that are beyond our control,” said Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, who sits with his fellow ADs and commissioner John Swofford on the league’s TV committee. “The cost of scholarships, the cost of travel, the cost of all the operational aspects. This takes a little bit of the pressure off.”
The ACC’s windfall does not match the Pacific 12 or Big Ten, both of which net a reported $20 million-plus per school in yearly media revenue. Southeastern Conference schools take in approximately $17.1 million annually, and that figures to increase dramatically with the league’s addition of Missouri and Texas A&M.
But as recently as 2009, ACC schools were earning $5.05 million a year in television revenue. So in three years the conference has more than tripled its rights fees.
The ACC-ESPN agreement includes all of the league’s sports and each of the network’s platforms, a combination that Swofford said provides “really outstanding exposure relative to any conference in the country.”
Also important to Swofford: The contract provides "look-ins" in Years 5 and 10 for additional revenue opportunities such as an ACC channel.
Swofford estimated that football drives 70-80 percent of rights fees and acknowledged that more national success in that sport would have meant additional revenue.
“We seem to be right on the verge of taking that next step,” Swofford said, not for the first time. “Our main goal … is to have our best teams winning on a national stage.”
The arrivals of Pitt and Syracuse will add 30 regular-season men’s basketball games and 14 conference-controlled football games to the league’s annual inventory. Expansion also takes the league into new markets.
Swofford said the increased revenue from ESPN coincides with what ACC officials projected when they voted to accept Pitt and Syracuse.
Under the contract, ESPN will televise three Friday ACC football games. Syracuse and Boston College wanted to host one each, Swofford said, and a third will be the day after Thanksgiving.
This represents a change from 2001, when the ACC voted to prohibit Friday games out of respect to high school schedules.
“We do everything we can to protect high school football,” Swofford said. “We could have done a lot more but didn’t want to. … The northeast corridor doesn’t have the same sensitivity (to Friday high school football) as the southeast.”
The new pact also gives ESPN permission to sell naming rights to ACC championship events such as the men’s basketball tournament. The network reaps that money, but the league has veto power over any naming sponsor.
At 59 years old, the ACC basketball tournament has never had a title sponsor.
Littlepage said he had no concerns with any perceived commercialization of the conference’s signature event and added that increased visibility for all sports will help coaches recruit.
“The financial impact is a plus,” Littlepage said. “But as important is the opportunity for so much more in terms of exposure for all our sports, not just football and men’s basketball, but also our Olympic sports.”
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