SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Media

Expanding ACC picks IMG to help secure new TV deals for football

The Atlantic Coast Conference has tapped IMG to represent the conference in its pursuit of new television contracts for football.

Its deals with ABC, ESPN and Jefferson-Pilot Sports run through the 2005 season but contain a clause that allows the contracts to be opened up if the ACC changes its roster of schools.

IMG's Barry Frank said he will act as a consultant and adviser and be directly involved in the negotiations, which will probably commence in the next 30 days. The conference hopes to have new football deals in place by next season.

By adding football powerhouses Virginia Tech and Miami next season, with Boston College also on the way once legal hurdles are cleared, the ACC may end up with the most lucrative television contracts of any college conference.

It already took in $21.1 million from football and $28 million from basketball during the 2001-02 academic year, the most recent period for which financial data were available.

At $49.1 million, the ACC's television revenue trailed only the Southeastern Conference (at $51 million) and the Big Ten (at $62.4 million). But unlike most other conferences, the value of its television deals was weighted toward basketball. If it ends up with a football deal that looks anything like the SEC's $40-plus million a year, then the ACC will vault to the No. 1 position in overall television revenue.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford would not predict what increase the conference would get, but said he hopes the ACC ends up with deals similar to the traditional football powerhouses.

"The quality of teams with the expanded conference gives us more to offer, particularly when coupled with the improvement that the current teams in the league have made," Swofford said.

Frank, who also has been a consultant for the Big 12, said the ACC will open up both its national deals with ABC and ESPN, as well as the syndication deal with Jefferson-Pilot Sports.

"When you change the structure of your organism, which they've done, then I think you have to explore all the possibilities," he said.

About a half-dozen consultants were vying for the ACC as a client, including Neal Pilson, Mike Trager and The Bonham Group.

FOX E-MAIL UPROAR: Fox Cable Networks got an interesting e-mail last Monday, one that contained the net bimonthly pay of every company employee. The data, sent anonymously, came from one pay period last February and included information for everyone from Fox Sports Chairman David Hill down to the lowest-paid employees. Anyone on the payroll of Fox Sports Net or its owned-and-operated networks had their net pay revealed for one pay period.

Tony Vinciquerra, CEO and president of Fox Networks Group, immediately sent out a stern warning that any employee caught copying or forwarding the e-mail would be disciplined. Then information technology technicians moved to erase the e-mail from every employee's computer.

USOC TAKES SHOW TO CABLE: The U.S. Olympic Committee has decided to take its Olympic reality show concept, "The Cut," to cable after being turned down by NBC. Also in development is another show aimed at cable under the working title "Behind the Medals," a show similar to VH1's "Behind the Music," that will tell the story of Olympic medalists and their ascent to glory.

The USOC's Keith Allo, who heads the Olympic Entertainment project to develop shows that will bring more exposure to U.S. athletes, said several cable networks have expressed interest in "The Cut." The show will follow U.S. Olympic hopefuls through the qualifying process. The challenge, he said, is covering the production costs, which run toward the high end of the $200,000 to $400,000 an hour that prime-time cable shows generally cost.

The format of the show has been tweaked a bit, with plans now to focus on one sport each episode instead of following a variety of athletes on a week-by-week basis. Allo said this will cut costs and also cater more to cable television viewing habits.

Instead of receiving a straight licensing fee from a cable network, the USOC may have to underwrite some of the show's cost by directing sponsor advertising dollars to whatever cable network carries the show, Allo said. The USOC plans to produce the show in association with Phil Gurin Productions.

The other show in development will most likely be produced by Hollywood production company 44 Blue. It will mostly use archival footage controlled by the USOC.

YES, CABLEVISION IN ARBITRATION: The YES Network and Cablevision Systems Corp. officially entered binding arbitration last week, after an attempt at mediation went nowhere.

The schedule called for each side to appoint a third-party individual to act as an arbitrator last Friday. Then, by Nov. 22, those two arbitrators will agree on a third person, and the three will form the team that eventually will decide the fate of YES and how it is distributed via Cablevision.

Between Nov. 22 and Jan. 2, both sides will file exhibits to the arbitrators. Then a hearing will be scheduled on or before Feb. 10, and a settlement must be reached by March 31. The final decision will be retroactive to the previous season.

YES was available a la carte on Cablevision last season. Cablevision is expected to argue that YES should remain an a la carte service, while YES will point to regional sports networks being on basic cable as the industry norm.

Andy Bernstein can be reached at abernstein@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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