You can make a case the ACC’s product has never been stronger. Florida State is a recent national champion in football, and Clemson came damn close last season. Duke and Louisville are recent champions in men’s basketball, and North Carolina came damn close last season. Virginia won the College World Series two seasons ago. The old Big East was essentially acquired and stripped for parts, and that multi-year takeover so strengthened the ACC’s brand that Notre Dame hopped aboard in non-football sports with a hefty scheduling agreement on the gridiron.
You could also, until today, make the case the ACC’s case for a stand-alone television network has never been weaker. Who’s launching a cable network in 2016? Will we even have TVs in our homes 10 years from now? And, sure, maybe Fox or NBC would make a play for the ACC with a network to boot, but an ESPN-owned ACC Network seemed to make least sense of all. The Worldwide Leader is aggressively shedding weight right now, not adding new parts. And, besides, ESPN already owns all the ACC rights anyone wants to watch anyway.
You could make that case, but you would be wrong. At least in the eyes of those in the ACC and ESPN offices.
According to multiple reports Monday night from those who would know, ESPN and the ACC have struck a deal to launch a digital network this year and a full-fledged network by 2019.
ACC Network will launch by August 2019 & ACC extends conference grant of rights thru 2036, sources told @ESPN
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 19, 2016
Source: ESPN to launch a digital-only, "ACC Network Plus" in Aug 2016 and a linear "ACC Network" in Aug 2019. Full story in SBD tomorrow.
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) July 19, 2016
Conference networks typically endure a rocky road from announcement to carriage. Big Ten Network fought the fight for years. Longhorn Network was a punchline. Most of you are still waiting to see your first Pac-12 Network event. The one exception? ESPN-backed SEC Network. Their 2014 launch was the biggest, most successful launch of a cable network in the history of cable television.
But, as they like to say, it just means more in SEC country.
The nation absolutely has an appetite for Duke-North Carolina basketball, Florida State-Clemson football and Miami football and Louisville basketball and Syracuse basketball and Notre Dame anything. But each of those brands was already parked on ABC, ESPN and or any other affiliated acronym, and they’ll stay that way unless the network needs to make a power play on local cable affiliates. ACC Network will be for Wake Forest-Boston College football and Clemson-Virginia Tech basketball.
Do enough people want to pay a buck a month for ACC Network to make everyone pay a buck a month for ACC Network? In an age where young people are shedding subscribers by the hour?
ESPN thinks so.
This story will be updated as details become available.