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ESPN, ACC Connect On $1.9 Billion Rights Deal

7/08/2010 12:25 PM Eastern

ESPN and the Atlantic Coast Conference, as expected, have concluded a comprehensive long-term deal covering football and basketball, as well as Olympic-style athletics across an array of platforms.
The 12-year pact of bundled rights gives the sports programmer, which has been televising ACC action since its inception in1979, exclusive rights to every conference-controlled football and men's basketball game, plus women's basketball and Olympic sports matchups, and conference championships. The agreement begins with the 2011-12 academic year and continues through 2022-23.
Neither party would disclose the value of the deal, which has been reported to be worth some $1.9 billion. ACC commissioner John Swofford said during a press conference announcing the agreement that the member schools would "more than double its TV revenue" from the average of the extant pact, which expires after the upcoming school year.

Fox Sports was an aggressive suitor, offering a proposal that would have provided the ACC with a presence on the broadcast network, FX and its host of regional sports networks and other properties.

Under the new contract, some 4,800 ACC events, or about 400 annually, will appear on ESPN's television outlets, digital and mobile platforms, syndication, broadband service ESPN3 and the fledgling ESPN 3D service.
Moreover, through a new sublicense arrangement with ESPN, Raycom Sports will continue its long-standing position as the syndication home of ACC content for over-the-air and regional cable network distribution in the ACC market. The new pact will also enable Raycom to seek deals in more geographic areas. It will also continue to manage the ACC's official corporate partner program and control its digital assets, including www.theACC.com, the official conference Web site. The conference retains archival rights.

Rights highlights of the new agreement include:
*Football on national TV: Regular-season action on Saturday afternoon and nights, primetime Thursdays, Labor Day Monday and the ACC championship game;

*Men's basketball on national TV: The most games ever across the ESPN networks, highlighted by both regular-season matchups of the legendary Duke-North Carolina rivalry each year; for the first time, full national telecasts on all contests televised on an ESPN platform (there had been local market blackouts on handful of matchups); a new weekly Sunday franchise on ESPNU, with games tipping no later than 6 p.m.; every regular-season intra-conference game and the entire conference tournament produced and distributed via ESPN and Raycom Sports;
*Women's basketball: A record number of women's regular-season basketball games and the addition of the entire conference tournament, with the women's title tilt airing on either on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC and the semifinals on one of those outlets or the 73 million-home ESPNU;
*Olympic sports: An expanded commitment to the league's 22-sponsored Olympic sports with regular-season and championship telecasts, highlighted by baseball, whose full tournament will be televised for the first time, softball, lacrosse, and men's and women's soccer;
*Syndication: Syndication rights for ACC football, basketball and Olympic sports action for over-the-air and regional cable network distribution in ACC markets and beyond via an agreement with Raycom and through potential sublicense agreements with other national outlets;
*Digital media: Exclusive ACC football, men's and women's basketball, and Olympic sports games as well as simulcasts on ESPN3.com. Live ACC games, including football and basketball, on ESPN Mobile TV;

*ESPN 3D: Live ACC action on the recently launched ESPN 3D;

*Additional outlets: ACC action on ESPN International, ESPN GamePlan, ESPN Full Court, ESPN Classic and ESPN Deportes; and extensive content rights for ESPN.com.

ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper said that ESPN is negotiating with Time Warner Cable for a carriage pact for ESPN3 and anticipates a deal will be in place before the start of the 2010 football season. Time Warner Cable has a dominant presence in North Carolina and is well positioned in South Carolina as well. ESPN3 currently has deals with ISP affiliates extending to some 50 million broadband homes.
Swofford said the ACC considered forming its own network, but after due diligence decided its wasn't the right time or direction. "It also involves considerable financial risk and money upfront," he said, noting that the Big Ten Network, albeit successful for its member schools, could turn out to be "an anomaly."
Dollars aside, Swofford said the ESPN deal, as opposed to striking accords with other players, was the "best for our league," relative to increased exposure for football and basketball, as well as a bigger presence for the other sports. He also talked about the power of the ESPN brand, plus the ACC continuing to have its own brand identity via the far-reaching pact.
Asked during the press event, if some of the major college conferences could get left out of future rights deals carrying increased rights payouts, Skipper said ESPN's various platforms require a lot of product, noting that "college sports are generally priced well ... with great product for an appropriate price." He said the deals work for ESPN financially across its multiple platforms.
Skipper added that with ESPN committed to "acquiring marquee product," interest from conferences exploring their own network opportunities and the content needs for regional sports networks, he doesn't see the trend toward higher rights fees going away.

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