CHARLOTTE — John Swofford opened the ACC Kickoff by informing his audience that he is no longer able to dance.
You know, “the dance that I’ve done the last couple of years, dancing around some questions about television.”
It was the Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner’s way of officially unveiling the ACC Network, an ESPN-backed project that will feature 450 live events per year — beginning in 2019 — and undoubtedly borrow ideas from another ESPN-backed project: SEC Network.
But based on statements from representatives of the World Wide Leader in Sports, you’d never know the SEC Network exists.
ESPN president John Skipper did his own dance Thursday morning, avoiding comparisons between the two.
“We want to be great partners and continue to be great partners with the SEC,” he said. “I don’t want to speak of this at all as, ‘We’re gonna take something we did somewhere and transform it.’ This will be a unique creation.”
Much like the SEC Network’s “Plus” channel, the ACC Network will have an “Extra” channel that launches this year, and the ACC is expected to enjoy the same 50-50 revenue split that the SEC currently has in place (with ESPN being the sole owner of both networks).
ESPN would seemingly have a lot to gain by patterning its ACC coverage after its SEC coverage. SEC Network had a wildly successful launch in 2014, and continues to be one of ESPN’s most valuable properties as more and more viewers cut their cable cords.
It’s odd: ESPN would clearly love the ACC Network to be the second coming of SEC Network, but it’s distancing itself from that specific idea.
One theory is that the World Wide Leader wants to keep expectations low. The network did not include financial information in its press release (SEC Network has been making money hand-over-fist for its member schools), and the three-year “runway” between now and the launch is much longer than the one year it took (approximately) to boot up SEC Network after its official unveiling.
Also: ESPN would have been forced to pay the ACC $45 million if it didn’t have an official network offer in place by July 1, according to ACC TV’s Wes Durham.
(Thursday, Skipper was caught off guard by a question about that $45 million fee, and refused to answer.)
That deadline would explain why such a major project has so few details — outside of some programming basics — attached to it. It’s something ESPN has “a long time to experiment with,” Skipper said.
ESPN is “fully committed to the paid television model,” but is also looking at “alternative packaging opportunities” that could include a direct-to-consumer product.
In other words: Who knows?
Rosalyn Durant — ESPN’s senior vice president of programming for college networks — echoed Skipper in her unwillingness to compare the SEC and ACC.
Asked whether ESPN can take any lessons from its SEC Network launch and apply them to the ACC Network, Durant didn’t offer any examples, saying ESPN will using experience from all of its previous launches.
“The SEC is an amazing partner,” Durant said, “and they will continue to be an amazing partner. This new announcement does not affect them in any way.”
The only man who was able to bridge the gap was Mark Richt, who was coaching at Georgia when the SEC Network launched two years ago.
Now at Miami, he hopes for a similar economic bump in the ACC.
“That’s huge. Exposure,” Richt said. “Every school is gonna benefit from it. Everything that I’ve done as far as spending money, is to help develop our players. The money from that network is gonna help us do that.”