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Volume 21 No. 2


More games, more rights and most of all, more money. That’s what was at stake when the ACC reopened its 1-year-old media contract with ESPN.

The new terms, signed off on last week by the network and the conference, elevate the ACC’s media revenue to $3.6 billion over the next 15 years, or $240 million per year. That’s a 32.9 percent increase over the previous contract, which originally was signed in 2010 and went into effect last year.

ESPN now can sell title or presenting sponsorships to all ACC championship events.
“At the league level, you continually try to provide the resources, both tangible and intangible, to help your institutions going forward,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. “This enhances our TV relationship from a financial standpoint and an exposure standpoint, and both of those are very important.”

The ACC’s previous contract with ESPN essentially was outdated before it went into effect. Shortly after the ACC agreed to its initial deal with ESPN for $155 million a year in 2010, the Pac-12 shocked the collegiate world with a 12-year deal with ESPN and Fox for $250 million a year that reset the market.

The numbers were so staggering that the Pac-12’s contract continues to influence other conferences. The ACC expanded last year with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, giving it the ability to immediately renegotiate its terms with ESPN. A clause in the old deal permitted the conference to go back to the table if its number of teams changed by two or more.

The SEC did the same, expanding with Missouri and Texas A&M to grow to 14 teams. Like the ACC, the SEC has been in contract renegotiations with ESPN to sweeten its deal.

The Big 12 has reacted, too, agreeing to new deals with ESPN and Fox that will be worth $192.3 million a year for its 10-team league.

“We definitely want to make sure that we’re at least in the same neighborhood with our peers,” Swofford said. “Every conference is different and it’s hard to compare them, but this agreement certainly achieves that. There should be a sense of well-being among our institutions that they have the resources to reach their competitive goals.”

The ACC’s deal includes some terms that weren’t part of the original ESPN contract.

The new agreement now extends to 2026-27 and grants the network the ability to sell title or presenting sponsorships to all of the league’s championship events, including the basketball tournament, with league approval. ESPN previously had the rights to just the football championship game.

ESPN also came away with more game inventory, including three Friday night or afternoon games. Two of them will be hosted by Boston College and Syracuse, while the third will be a Thanksgiving Friday game.

With the ACC expanding its conference regular-season basketball schedule to 18 games and adding Syracuse and Pitt, ESPN will broadcast 30 more men’s basketball games a year and two more conference tournament games. In football, 14 more conference-controlled games will be televised each year.

IMG’s Barry Frank and Wasserman Media Group consulted with the ACC on the talks, Swofford said.

The ACC's old contract
Years Total money Avg. per year Avg. per school per year
12 $1.86 billion $155 million $12.9 million
The new contract
Years Total money Avg. per year Avg. per school per year
15 $3.6 billion $240 million $17.1 million

Current college television deals
BIG TEN $1 billion/10 years 2007-2008 through 2016-17 ESPN/ABC June 2006
  $72 million*/6 years 2011-12 through 2016-17 CBS June 2011
  $2.8 billion/25 years 2007-2008 through 2031-32 Big Ten Network August 2006
Notes: With the addition last year of former Big 12 member Nebraska, there are 12 schools in the Big Ten. Big Ten Network debuted in 2007. The conference and News Corp. jointly own the network and share expenses.
BIG EAST $200 million/6 years 2007-2008 through 2012-13 ESPN/ABC August 2006
Note: Pitt and Syracuse will be moving to the ACC, and West Virginia is leaving to join the Big 12. In response, the Big East will add Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Navy, San Diego State, Southern Methodist and Temple.
SEC $2.25 billion/15 years 2009-10 through 2023-24 ESPN/ABC August 2008
  $825 million/15 years 2009-10 through 2023-24 CBS College Sports August 2008
Note: Missouri and Texas A&M will join the conference later this year, giving it 14 members.
ACC $3.6 billion/15 years 2011-12 through 2026-27 ESPN/ABC, ACC Network/Raycom May 2012
Note: Pitt and Syracuse will join the ACC, giving it 14 members.
BIG 12 $1.17 billion/13 years 2012-13 through 2024-25 Fox March 2011
  $1.3 billion/13 years 2012-13 through 2024-25 ESPN/ABC March 2012
  $78 million/4 years 2008-09 through 2011-12 FSN April 2007
Note: Last year the conference lost Nebraska and Colorado, reducing it to 10 members, and this summer it will lose Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC. In response, West Virginia and Texas Christian will join the conference this summer, keeping it at 10 members.
PAC-12 $3 billion/12 years 2011-12 through 2022-23 ESPN and Fox May 2011
Note: Former Big 12 member Colorado and former Mountain West member Utah became the 11th and 12th members of the conference last year.
* Basketball only Sources: Conference Form 990s filed with the IRS; conference officials

John Ourand
NBC sent out a press release last Tuesday trumpeting its Kentucky Derby numbers: Ratings were up 6 percent and viewership was up 2 percent.

Good news, right?

Well, minutes later an anonymous Twitter handle, called TVSportsratings, tweeted a different spin:

“Kentucky Derby on NBC: 3.06 in Men 18-49 (-8% vs. last year) & 14.8 mil viewers (+2%). Median age of 60 years.”
A couple of days earlier, the Twitter feed took on Fox. On Sunday afternoon, hours after a UFC on Fox broadcast, TVSportsratings taunted a Fox PR executive via Twitter, telling him to “get busy spinning last night’s shit UFC numbers.”

The TVSportsratings feed, which abruptly shut down last week, tweeted ratings information that networks didn’t want public.
Sure enough, when the numbers came out a couple of days later, the event posted a 42 percent ratings drop and a 48 percent viewership drop from its previous UFC bout.

So who’s behind this Twitter feed? Nobody knows. And we may never find out. At our deadline, shortly after I began posing questions to the feed via Twitter direct messages, it appears that whoever was behind it deleted the account. The final direct message from TVSportsratings said, “Not worth the bother to me. Like I said, I gain nothing from this personally or professionally.”

During its Twitter run, TVSportsratings became one of the most important feeds to follow. It remained anonymous and amassed nearly 8,500 followers. In the process, the owner of the feed emerged as a modern day folk hero of sports media, cutting through network spin to provide ratings information that networks did not want public.

The Twitter feed was under the skin of network executives, who tried for months to figure out who was behind it. One network’s research department pegged the tweeter as a research executive for a smaller network. Another network’s research department believes the person works for an advertising agency.

They all believed the person behind the feed was a middle-aged man who lives in northern New Jersey, based on some of the Twitter feeds that the account followed, like Port Authority and Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue. They believed the person is in the television industry and is a big baseball fan who supports the Yankees. And that his or her birthday is April 6, based on other tweets.

“That a still-unknown individual has provoked such unrest amid some sports PR departments would be a field day for Sigmund Freud or B.F. Skinner,” said Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch, who followed the feed. “One of the most interesting things about this feed is that it’s an example of the power of social media and how an individual can have an impact on the business.”

That potential business effect is one reason why at least one of the networks complained to Nielsen and tried to persuade the ratings company to figure out who was behind the feed.

Network executives believe that Nielsen should have been able to track who was requesting the information that TVSportsratings put out.

“The real question here — and this is where it can get very ugly — is, ‘Is he in violation of his employer’s Nielsen licensing agreements?’” said Vince Wladika, a longtime TV sports PR executive.

Some Fox and NBC employees have challenged the feed via Twitter. After a TVSportsratings tweet last month that said “a 6am airing of Family Matters on Nick (846k viewers) was just ahead of PIT/PHI NHL on NBCS (844k),” Jared Feigenbaum, an NBC Sports marketer who used to work for Fuel, had an extensive back-and-forth with the feed, questioning its motives for highlighting poor numbers on NBC Sports Network and Fuel, in particular.

The question about the feed’s agenda is frequently voiced by network executives.

“Because he remains anonymous, you have no idea what his agenda is,” Wladika said. “Who does he work for? Is he doing this for their agenda?”

Personally, I liked the feed. It provided accurate numbers and gave sports media fans a new way to look at the ratings.
I am curious to know who was behind it. And I hope the account gets reactivated. The mystery of who is behind the tweets is part of what drove the TV networks crazy and part of what made TVSportsratings so much fun to follow.

John Ourand can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

Patrick Burke created You Can Play to honor the memory of his brother, Brendan, who was killed in an automobile accident in February 2010 — three months after Brendan publicly declared he was gay. Patrick, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and son of Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke, sought to spread a message of ending what he calls “the culture of casual homophobia” in sports.

“We want to change the way we think about athletes, gay or straight,” Patrick Burke said. “Let gay athletes play to the best of their abilities by letting them live free and without shame.”

Burke and his You Can Play co-founders, Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman, aim to take the next steps in their efforts. The group launched in March with videos on NHL broadcasts and websites featuring NHL players, including Zdeno Chara and Steven Stamkos, asking for acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community on the playing field. You Can Play now seeks similar engagement from other leagues.

“We have enjoyed speaking with Patrick and learning about You Can Play,” said JoAnn Neale, executive vice president for Major League Soccer. “MLS W.O.R.K.S. [the league’s charitable arm] is committed to working alongside groups that support LGBT causes and equality. We look forward to working with You Can Play in a variety of capacities.”

Those efforts are expected to include MLS players shooting videos as NHL players did previously.

Burke said You Can Play in June plans to open an online merchandise store, with proceeds going to You Can Play programs. In the fall is the scheduled release of the organization’s “Playbook” — a guide for athletes, coaches, administrators, media and fans with a goal of making sure their sport, locker room, school or arena is safe for LGBT athletes.

But as You Can Play grows, so will the need for more support. Burke’s staff consists of volunteers, and the group operates without any corporate partners, though entities including HBO and Edelman provide pro bono services. Financially, You Can Play relies on personal donations. You Can Play also has received donations from the Gill Foundation and the Palette Fund, which support LGBT civil rights work.

“We want business leaders to align with us because they truly believe it’s the right thing to do,” Burke said of his not-for-profit organization. “But we also hope they understand that the LGBT sports community is a major, untapped market.”

Burke, who also attends New England Law School in Boston, supports his argument with statistics. A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released last June estimated that 45 percent of gay males in American high schools are athletes.