A few years ago I traveled down to North Carolina for the ACC Football Kickoff. One of the questions hurled at ACC commissioner John Swofford at the time was when the ACC might launch its own conference-branded sports network, similar to the Big Ten Network. Swofford strayed away from putting any firm timetable out there. That was in 2011. Four years later, there is still no timetable is play for any conceivable ACC Network.
Swofford addressed what has become an annual talking point, this time with the knowledge of the success of the SEC Network that launched just last year and has quickly become one of the most prized assets in the collegiate athletics world today. Back in 2011 the only other model was the Big Ten Network, which was and still is a big piece of the pie in the Big Ten. Not much has changed on that front, as evidenced by a report showing the payouts coming in the most recent revenue shares.
Some have speculated the earliest target date for an ACC network would be 2017, not 2016. At this point, that would make sense because the ACC and any potential broadcast partner would need time to set up the operation. And that really can be a lot to do in just one year. The ACC has established a solid relationship with ESPN though, and it is widely assumed the ACC would partner with ESPN in some capacity in launching its own network. It would not, however, be a simple clone of the SEC Network.
If nothing else, the ACC has been attentive to the successes and failures of the other conference-branded networks. While things look incredible peachy for the Big Ten and SEC, not everything seems to be running smoothly with the Pac-12. The biggest question is whether there is enough demand for an ACC network that would make the effort worth the investment. If the interest was not there in 2011, what has changed to alter that outlook in 2015? Expansion would be one thing. The ACC has since added Pittsburgh and Syracuse to help build up a northeastern presence, and Louisville joined the fold as well at a time when the entire athletics program seems to be improving. The ACC also added Notre Dame in most sports (except football, which does not please Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel).
The ACC has stayed out of the conference network game this long, so who is to say it would be a mistake sitting out longer? Is the ACC Network worth the investment? How will changing dynamics in the cable industry affect the long-term plans for the ACC? There is a lot of stuff going on in the game, and that is why the ACC must be careful in assessing the long-term future stability of a new network.