The ACC Network is set to launch on August 22, a long-awaited television home for the conference.
But will fans in North Carolina, the heart of the ACC, be able to view the network when it hits the airwaves?
The ACC Network, a partnership between the conference and ESPN, does not yet have a carriage agreement with any of the major cable systems in North Carolina (Charter/Spectrum/Time Warner and AT&T) and is still missing at least one major system in the ACC footprint (Comcast). The network does have deals with DirecTV and several cable providers elsewhere on the East Coast.
Speaking at the regional Associated Press Sports Editors meeting Monday in Greensboro, ACC commissioner John Swofford talked at great length about the network, which will be headquartered at ESPN’s main studios in Bristol, Conn., with each school having spent millions to build on-campus studios and a sales team based in Charlotte.
Swofford said he was confident a deal will be in place before the season starts.
“All of them will come into play as we work towards the launch,” Swofford said. “You’ll be able to get the network one way or another just about anywhere. The linear distributors, it’s set up right now on when their deal is over with Disney, with ESPN, those are the ones where we have been concentrating, where ESPN has been concentrating at this point and time. All of those will have the opportunity to come on board before the launch.”
Swofford said consumers have alternatives if those distributors don’t come on board.
“We think it’s must-see television,” Swofford said, “in our unbiased opinion.”
Many carriage deals go to the 11th hour, so there is often a degree of wait-and-see involved.
“That’s just part of it, that’s the nature of it,” Swofford said. “Anybody who has started a channel has (been through it). It’s just the nature of the beast.”
Swofford said he looks at other conference networks as blueprints for how he sees the network going. He said the Fox-affiliated Big Ten Network struggled early and became successful in its third year. The independent Pac-12 Network, he said, is still trying to find its way. The ACC Network is following the template of the SEC Network, a joint venture with ESPN.
“The SEC launch was outstanding from the beginning,” Swofford said. “Their timing was unique which helped it be outstanding and they’ve had a lot of success recently, which I’m sure that helped. Each of those three are very different.”
Distribution, Swofford said is the top priority when it comes to the ACC Network. Talent and programming, he added, are “ongoing.” The conference and network announced several broadcasters, shows and documentaries at the ACC tournament.
In his opening statement, Swofford used the term “so far, so great” when talking about the launch of the ACC Network, saying they’ve “hit every mark.”
Swofford said the biggest challenge with the network, since talks started in 2009, was getting people to understand expansion and why it was important to add teams in the league. Contract negotiations were challenging, and Swofford added that the league had to put itself in a position to even have the conversation to get a network. That was another challenge.
The ACC Network will televise 40 football games each season as well as spring games. At least 150 men’s and women’s basketball games will appear on ACCN as well as live events in many other sports and other original programming.