SBJ/Sept. 9-15, 2013/Colleges

With stability, ‘down the road we’ll talk to ESPN’

After a blitz of media interviews in New York, Mike Aresco returned to Providence, R.I., and settled into the offices of the American Athletic Conference to watch the first Saturday of college football. The commissioner, who rebranded the league from the Big East to The American, said there’s a sense that the membership has settled, and by 2015 the league will be back to 12 members with a conference championship football game.

Aresco, the former programming chief at CBS Sports, looked ahead to The American’s future in a conversation last week with SportsBusiness Journal college writer Michael Smith.

The new conference’s brand looks good, Aresco said.
Photo by: MARC BRYAN-BROWN
How the league’s rebranding looked on TV:

“I think it was portrayed extremely well. I’m proud of how things looked. I watched an interview with [Louisville quarterback] Teddy Bridgewater and the A on the uniform was very prominent. The A also looked good on a number of football fields. It’s a blue logo, but we gave schools the ability to customize the A with their own colors.”

What No. 8-ranked Louisville can do for The American, even though the school is leaving after this season for the ACC:

“People who aren’t as perceptive only see that Louisville is leaving, but with the team they’ve got, they’re going to give the league great exposure. And in men’s basketball, they’re going to get us extra exposure on CBS because they’re the defending national champions. That not only helps Louisville, but our teams that are playing against Louisville.”

The reported $120 million to $140 million the conference will collect from exit fees paid by Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and other defectors:

“There are exit fees that will be paid over a period of eight to 10 years and there also are units [from the NCAA tournament] that will be left behind, and that’s substantial revenue as well, in addition to TV. We also kept our marketing rights and we’re finalizing an extension with IMG College that will represent some guaranteed revenue. … What we’ve done is work out a formula for distribution with the schools that is equitable. Obviously, the core schools that have been in the conference the longest have certain claims. The ADs got together and devised the formula. The new schools will get a share, too. Honestly, going through this process has made our conference more cohesive.”

On the new six-year, $130 million TV deal with ESPN:

“We knew the TV revenue wouldn’t be representative because we were negotiating at a time when we weren’t very stable. But we are now, and down the road we’ll talk to ESPN again. You notice that we didn’t do a long-term deal, at least not in the way that many conferences have. We knew that we’d be stronger down the road. We’re going to fill a lot of great windows for ESPN, and we’ll have more value in the future. For now, the exposure is really outstanding. UCF basketball has been on national TV five times ever, and this year alone they’ll have 18 national appearances on ESPN platforms. That will help us build the league.”

Site and TV for the 2015 conference championship football game:

“We’ll play at the site of the highest-ranked division champion. We’ve talked about doing East and West divisions. That probably makes the most sense. The rights for that game are rolled into the ESPN deal.”

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