ACC Network launch nears, TV deals still in the works

The conference used part of football media days to preview the new channel

Commissioner John Swofford speaks last Wednesday during the Atlantic Coast Conference media days in Charlotte. (Chuck Burton / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — The long-awaited and much-anticipated debut of the ACC Network is only a month away.

It’s an occasion of such consequence that John Swofford yielded a large segment of his Commissioner’s Forum during ACC Media Days in Charlotte last week — something he’s never done before — to allow those associated with the network to hype the 24-hour channel dedicated to coverage of the conference.

Everything, including state-of-the-art production studios on each campus, is in place and ready to go online when the switch is officially flipped on Thursday, Aug. 22.

The problem is, unless deals are signed with most major cable providers between now and then, a majority of viewers in the ACC’s geographic footprint will have a hard time seeing it. League officials are so concerned about the situation that they’ve taken to social media urging fans to demand their cable companies carry the new network.

“Fan bases, their voices need to be heard,” Swofford said. “We count on them to demand of their carrier to take the ACC Network. I think this is must-see television quite frankly. It’s not just watching a game, it’s watching the Atlantic Coast Conference in every sport, in every way, from the inside-out and from the outside-in.

“I’m very confident in the passion and the willingness and ability to express that passion at the right time with our fan bases.”

DirecTV is currently the largest service provider to sign up for the ACC Network. Most of the others are direct-to-customer services such as Fios by Verizon, Google Fiber, Hulu and Playstation Vue.

Although cable giants Cox, Comcast and Charter Spectrum, along with Dish Network continue to hold out, negotiations are ongoing and Swofford is confident they will eventually agree on deals.

“I think as you get toward launch, the way distribution works, a lot of those deals happen at the midnight hour, so to speak,” said Swofford, who added that the ACC is concentrating only on content when it comes to the new network, leaving the contractual issues for broadcast partner ESPN.

“What I will tell you is that we’re very confident that ESPN is the best in the world when it comes to distribution,” he said. “It’s all part of the Disney family. When you combine ESPN sports with what Disney does that is nonsports, that’s strong. I think we all understand that. That’s one of the reasons that we feel so confident as this builds out with who we’re partnered with.”

Even if deals with the nation’s biggest cable companies aren’t in place by the launch date, or more importantly by the first scheduled football game between defending national champion Clemson and Georgia Tech on Aug. 29, Swofford said that the ACC Network will still be available to anyone that wants to see it.

“You’ll be able to get the ACC Network anywhere in the nation one way or another, whether it’s DirecTV, whether it’s Hulu that are already on board,” Swofford said. “People will have an opportunity to change carriers if they’re not happy with their current one who is not carrying the ACC Network.”

Success of the ACC Network is a vital part of the league’s effort to close the financial gap that currently exists between it and both the SEC and Big Ten, rival Power 5 conferences whose dedicated networks have been up and running for a number of years.

To that end, the ACC has put together a star-studded lineup of personalities and analysts for its game coverage and studio programming.

In addition to more than 1,300 live events involving the league’s 15 member schools in 27 sponsored sports, the ACC Network’s schedule will also include a daily talk show hosted by the duo of Wes Durham and Mark Packer and a two-hour football preview show every Friday night during the season.

Other programming will include shows featuring the successful careers of legendary ACC coaches such as Florida State’s Bobby Bowden and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, and a behind-the-scenes look into Clemson’s preparations for defending its football national championship.

“Let me tell you, this is going to be a quality product on every level,” Durham said at the ACC’s Football Kickoff event last week. “The real secret sauce in this are the institutional facilities. I’ve had a chance to see a handful of them and they’re phenomenal.

“There are always going to be little bumps in the road on takeoff. It’s just like flying a plane. Eventually you’ll find a smooth cruising altitude. Spending the last day or so with a lot of the people involved in this and everyone’s excitement level is high.”