SBD/Issue 244/College Football Preview

Catching Up With ACC Commissioner John Swofford

ACC Commissioner
John Swofford

The ACC kept a low profile during the conference realignment talk that dominated the news this offseason, but that doesn't mean it didn't have a busy summer. In fact, the conference in July inked a 12-year deal with ESPN that includes exclusivity to all conference-controlled football and men's basketball games. With the football season set to kick off in full force this weekend, THE DAILY's Joe Burger recently caught up with ACC Commissioner John Swofford to discuss the new TV deal, the changing landscape of college sports and the conference's championship game.

Q: How did the conference realignment this summer affect the ACC, and what is the ACC doing to brace itself against losing possible members?

Swofford: When we went from nine to 12 members six years ago, we did that to make our league stronger, to solidify ourselves, to better position ourselves for what we felt the future could hold. And I think it’s proven to be true that there would be more changes in conference affiliations. The fact that we were 12 and had enhanced our position and solidified our conference was of comfort this summer with all the changes and potential changes that were going on. We were proactive at that point in time and we chose not to be this summer while some other conferences were very aggressive and assertive. But under the radar, we were very thoroughly and consciously evaluating the landscape and taking a look at what those potential changes and the ramifications on our conference could bring. We felt like we were well positioned. Our continuing belief is that we are solid as 12, and that we like that number at this point in time. But we will continue to keep an eye on the landscape.

Q: The new TV contract with ESPN goes into effect next season. What new features does the contract contain?

Swofford: It gives us more exposure and more dollars than we have ever enjoyed, and that’s a great thing for our programs and our institutions. We will move our Sunday night basketball from Fox to ESPNU earlier in the day on Sunday. Our noon syndicated football games will go to 12:30. Both of those are fan-friendly changes. There will be no restrictions on our syndicated games as there are now. Now they can only be syndicated in our footprint. In the future, they can be syndicated throughout the country. We will have more games on ESPN platforms than we have ever had before because ESPN will be the full rights holder. We are also going to be able to move forward with some new media aspects of the contract with apps -- ACC apps -- that will be readily available with more streaming opportunities for our games that are not on television and some of our Olympic sports. We will have more coverage of women’s basketball and baseball ... than we have ever had before and for the games that are not picked up in women’s basketball and Olympic sports by ESPN and Raycom, we are free to take those elsewhere and distribute those for television as well.

Q: How far did talks about an ACC network go?

Swofford: We really looked at that very thoroughly early on in our discussions and during our negotiations as well, and simply felt that was not a direction that would best serve our schools and our conference in terms of dollars or in terms of exposures and distribution. We feel like we did our due diligence in that regard. We will be changing branding with some of the distributions of our games where there will be an ACC Network brand for our syndicated games from a marketing standpoint.

Q: The ACC has two nationally televised interconference games the first weekend of the season in North Carolina-LSU and Virginia Tech-Boise State. How important is it from the league's standpoint to win these games?

Swofford: We have a number of opportunities early in the season starting with those two, then Miami-Ohio State, Florida State-Oklahoma, and Clemson-Auburn. You’ve got some excellent opportunities and what you need to be able to do is take care of those opportunities because ultimately it gets down to performance and winning games and that’s how you are perceived. So hopefully we’ll be able to take care of those opportunities.

Q: What would you consider a success for this year's ACC Football Championship Game in Charlotte after having less-than-expected ticket sales at the last few ACC championships?

Swofford: The real measure is basically a full house regardless of who’s playing. We would like nothing better than for Charlotte to be the permanent home of the ACC Football Championship Game, and we are here for at least two years. Eight of our schools are within a 300-mile drive of Charlotte, and the city of Charlotte just has so much to offer in terms of energy and a lot of ACC fans. It’s right in our geographic center. It has an excellent tradition and history of being very supportive of the Atlantic Coast Conference and a lot of our schools. Really what we are looking for is a situation where, regardless of who is in that championship game, there is enough local support for the game that you are basically looking at a full stadium or very close to it.

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