Launch Of ACC Net Concludes Long Journey For Jordan, Swofford
The date rolls off Dean Jordan’s tongue without hesitation -- July 17, 2009. That was when ACC Commissioner John Swofford first hired him to study the feasibility of a conference channel. The ACC’s media rights were set to expire two years later and Swofford wanted to know if the timing was right for a channel like the one the Big Ten started with Fox in ‘07. Jordan, a veteran media consultant based in Wasserman's Raleigh office, had worked with the Big 12, Big Ten and Mountain West, among others, on their TV deals. He was building a reputation as one of the leading college consultants in a highly competitive space filled with former network execs. Once he conducted a deep dive into the ACC’s fundamentals, like population and TV households in the footprint, Jordan told Swofford that the conference was not ready for a channel. Football was not consistently strong enough, the footprint was not large enough and the ACC’s cachet was built on basketball at a time when the value of contracts were weighted 80% football. “The ACC didn’t have the leverage they needed at the time,” Jordan said. “But everything is cyclical.” The ACC and its media partner ESPN will launch the ACC Network tonight at 7:00pm ET, culminating a decade-long process of remaking the conference so that it could be channel-worthy.
INVALUABLE PARTNERSHIP: Swofford and Jordan spent the next 10 years finding the right expansion targets that would take the conference into new media markets and help build the case for a channel. What they did not know back then was that Jordan would become one of Swofford’s most trusted advisers and a personal friend. Jordan over time evolved from a one-off project guy into an influential voice who has been in the room for the conference’s biggest decisions leading up to the birth of the channel. The pair from small North Carolina towns -- Swofford from North Wilkesboro; Jordan from Albemarle -- knew of each other from a distance 10 years ago. But tonight, Jordan will be part of the ACC contingent at ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, toasting the launch of the new network with Swofford, Duke AD Kevin White, Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock and other network execs. The channel serves as Swofford’s most profound legacy after a professional lifetime spent in the conference -- 17 years as North Carolina AD and the last 22 years as commissioner. “Any endeavor like this takes a village, but this wouldn’t be happening without the commissioner’s leadership,” White said. It is impossible to imagine any singular figure who has impacted the ACC more than Swofford over those 39 years. During these last 10 years, though, as the net inched closer to reality, Jordan was working behind the scenes to help Swofford push it across the goal line. “Dean really provided us with the analysis we needed,” Swofford said.
UNLIKELY PATH TO TV: Unlike many consultants who lean on their experience working in the TV industry, Jordan took a different path into media. The former baseball exec learned the media business by overseeing broadcasting for the Pirates and the expansion Marlins, who operated their own RSN. Jordan credits that experience and his tutelage under Gary Stevenson, his former boss at OnSport, for developing an analytical approach that he applied to the ACC’s pursuit of a network. That kind of data helped fuel Swofford’s talks with ESPN and convince those inside the league that a channel was viable. For example, more than 40% of three-star football recruits or higher came from the ACC’s footprint. The conference also was in five of the 15 fastest-growing states. “There were a lot of negative stories out there about ACC football, but the data didn’t support that,” Jordan said. After striking an all-in deal with ESPN in ‘11 that included media, digital, marketing and sponsorship, the ACC went on to renegotiate its deal three more times after expansions that brought in Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville. A fourth negotiation netted the ACC Network.
SURVIVING MARYLAND'S DEPARTURE: Getting to this point required Swofford to clear some complicated hurdles. When Maryland stunned everyone by leaving the ACC for the Big Ten in November ‘12, critics said the ACC was unstable. In the six months that followed UM’s departure, Swofford had to be on his game, communicating daily with ADs and school presidents to reassure them that the ACC’s future was bright -- and that it included a revenue-producing channel that would be a gamechanger financially. Jordan’s role during that six-month stretch in early ‘13 became even more prominent. His presentation to presidents and chancellors at the ‘13 ACC basketball tournament was considered pivotal in convincing the members to stick together when conference realignment appeared threatening. Jordan asked Swofford for two weeks to prepare a presentation that would highlight the ACC’s strengths. “We decided to look at all the positive attributes that this league has," Jordan said. “It was pretty convincing.”
SELLING SCHOOLS ON NETWORK: Jordan put together two pages of data that showed the ACC’s market size, projected growth and the strength of the universities academically. He reviewed the ACC’s recruiting and NFL draft history in football. "Look, you're right in the middle of the most fertile recruiting area in the country," Jordan told the university presidents. Every president in that ‘13 presentation pledged their commitment to the ACC that day, which led to a conference-wide Grant of Rights agreement. Without all 15 schools granting their rights to the conference, any conversation about an ACC Network would have been dead. “It was a volatile time in college athletics because of realignment,” Swofford said of schools skipping from one conference to another. “ESPN needed to know that if it made that kind of investment in a network, all 15 schools would be together.” Jordan has been by Swofford’s side ever since. “Commissioner gave us a chance,” Jordan said, “and we did good work. I think it’s as simple as that.”