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CBS Sports and Turner Sports today officially announced that the Final Four will be moving to cable television for the first time next year. The move, which was first reported by SportsBusiness Journal in March, will see TBS broadcast both national semifinal games in ’14 and ’15 with CBS covering the national championship games. TBS then will assume full coverage of Final Four weekend in ’16, with CBS taking it back in ’17. The nets will alternate full coverage of the Final Four weekend until their 14-year media rights agreement with the NCAA expires in ’24. CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus on a conference call this morning said, “We wanted to come up with a scenario that was better for CBS and Turner. We both win.” Turner Sports President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy said splitting the Final Four up for the next two years “gave a nice opportunity for transition” to TBS covering all three Final Four games in ’16. CBS has broadcast the Final Four every year since ’82. CBS and TBS beginning next year also will evenly split up Elite Eight and Sweet 16 games through ’24. Coverage of the earlier rounds will continue on truTV, CBS, TNT and TBS, with truTV exclusively airing the tournament’s First Four. Levy said that the two nets have not discussed on-air talent for when TBS takes over the national semifinals next year. He noted talent discussions would probably take place within the next month. Financial terms of the current rights deal remain the same with the moves.
Officials with the ACC are "turning their attention to launching their own league-branded network, joining the ranks of the Big Ten, Pac-12 and, now, SEC as conferences that own channels," according to Smith & Ourand of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. ACC Commissioner John Swofford said, “We’ve got the strongest collegiate TV market in the country. We’re now in a position to accelerate talks with ESPN, which were already ongoing, about a network.” Swofford said the ACC's recent additions of Notre Dame, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, plus the grant of rights, “enhance those discussions." Those moves "caused ESPN to sweeten its rights offer for an all-in media deal that will average" $260M a year through '26-27. Sources said that there are "other contractual elements ... that could push the value higher, especially if the conference starts its own network." Swofford said that the ACC’s "footprint along the Northeast and Southeast U.S. reaches 43 million TV households, more than other conferences." Clemson AD Dan Radakovich said, “With the expansion we’ve had, our demographics, our financials and our projections are much more palatable. The only thing holding us up is time. The SEC Network was three years in the making. Distribution, programming, legal, it all takes time.” ACC sources said that the $260M average "places the 15-team ACC on more level ground with its peer conferences" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/6 issue).
NO CONCERN IN THE COMMONWEALTH: In Virginia, David Teel reported less than "24 hours before ACC presidents unanimously approved the conference’s landmark grant of rights last month," Swofford met with the Univ. of Virginia’s Board of Visitors in Charlottesville. But Swofford yesterday said, "There was never any concern about Virginia’s commitment to the league. I felt that was absolute and strong throughout. President [Teresa] Sullivan asked if I would come up … and visit with the board to better inform them of what this meant and to talk about the vision of the league moving forward.” Teel noted "accompanying Swofford" were ACC Outside Counsel Erik Albright and Wasserman Media Group Senior VP Dean Jordan. Albright explained the "legal jargon, Jordan the television revenue implications" (DAILYPRESS.com, 5/6).
PLAYING CATCH-UP: In Norfolk, Bob Molinaro writes if league TV channels are the "future of major college sports, the ACC is playing catch-up." But having its "own channel would also mean an expanded football TV schedule for the ACC, providing a TV home to every league game." It would "free the Dukes of the world from being banished to computer viewing through ESPN3." However, the market is "already glutted with too many games from too many conferences -- several superior to the ACC." It is "not like Notre Dame football will be making a stop on the ACC channel anytime soon." Molinaro: "Apparently, the business model works for the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, and eventually will for the ACC." Are the TV "households in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston that make up much of the 43 million in Swofford's media world as emotionally connected with the ACC as the Raleigh market?" How "deep into its inventory will the ACC have to dig to find programming for its own network?" (Norfolk VIRGINIAN-PILOT, 5/7).
IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR: The Hampton Roads DAILY PRESS' Teel writes the last year has been the "most stabilizing and fortyifying in ACC history," but also the "most turbulent." Swofford yesterday said, “It has been an extremely eventful year, and the grant of rights I see as the icing on the cake in terms of those various events, all of which, with the exception of Maryland’s departure, (were) extremely positive.” Swofford said, “Without the grant of rights, I think the channel was a real longshot." He added, "What we will do is continue our analysis that had already started and continue our discussions with ESPN, because anything we do will be with ESPN as our partner." Swofford: "I think we’re very well-positioned. I think we’ve got a terrific grouping of schools and a superb footprint. It’s the strongest collection of basketball programs ever in a single conference, and I think our football has unlimited potential. ... We need to think aggressively, and a part of that may be playing a football game a year overseas and a basketball game or two."
PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS: Teel notes the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A Bowl has the "first choice of ACC teams after the Bowl Championship Series, an arrangement that ends after the 2013 season as the Chick-fil-A becomes part of the playoff’s six-game rotation." Though Swofford "declined to discuss specific bowls, that could well mean a reunion with the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Gator Bowl." Swofford: "Even with the Chick-fil-A Bowl not being a guaranteed stop, I think our lineup will be enhanced. And hopefully we’ll be in Atlanta periodically with teams in the football playoff mix." He added, "We may pool bowls and have a little more freedom in putting together matchups that make the most sense for schools and fans and the bowls themselves. ... We’re looking at some things that could add a little more flexibility in order [to] put the most attractive matchups together, and the matchups that make the most sense geographically as well.” Teel reports the ACC is "considering rewarding its football champion, or playoff teams, with a bonus." Swofford said, "There's some discussion about that" (DAILYPRESS.com, 5/7).
Golf Channel is on an "unprecedented roll, setting viewership marks with each passing week," and it has become "such an integral part of professional golf it’s hard to recall the landscape without it," according to Tod Leonard of the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE. It is the "network of record for the sport, every golf fan knows it, and they are watching in record numbers." Golf Channel's 25.5 million unique viewers for Q1 was "the most-watched quarter ever" for the net. April and The Masters "arrived with more record numbers as viewership was up" 11% from '12. The "momentum would indicate that Golf Channel likely will set a yearlong viewership record for a third straight time." This week's Players Championship is the PGA Tour's "most favored child, its biggest production." If it is "important to the tour, it most certainly is to Golf Channel, and this year the coverage will be wall to wall, more extensive than ever." NBC Sports Group will "offer 22 hours of live tournament coverage and another 57 hours of news and talk." More than 400 people combined between NBC and Golf Channel "will work on the broadcasts." Through its TV rights agreement with the PGA Tour, Golf Channel has "many weeks of Thursday-Friday tournament coverage in partnership" with CBS, NBC and ESPN. On an "NBC week, there are 30-minute 'Live From' preview shows" on the net. From a "credibility standpoint, and however subtle, having viewers see the Golf Channel logo with the familiar peacock NBC flag on a microphone is enormous." Golf Channel host Rich Lerner said, “We have more horsepower now. We’re more polished now. But I think what remains the same is our passion for the game" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 5/7).
Tennessee-based 247Sports.com has signed a long-term agreement to become the official online selection partner of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and U.S. National Combine. An annual showcase of the country's top high school football players, the All-American Bowl is held each January and shown live on NBC. It has seen 238 participants drafted by NFL teams. In addition to becoming the online selection partner for the game, 247Sports.com will receive in-game branding, exclusive player data and post-practice interview access, among other assets. The previous online selection partner for the event was Rivals.com, a deal signed in '07 by execs now running 247Sports.com. "When sports fans think of college football recruiting, there are two events that come to mind," said 247Sports.com Founder & CEO Shannon Terry, who is the former CEO of Rivals.com, in a company memo. "One is National Signing Day, and the other is the U.S. Army All-American Bowl."