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Volume 20 No. 42


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.
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.”

Mike Aresco, the American Athletic Conference’s commissioner, just wrapped up a six-year media deal with ESPN and now he’s turning his attention to a digital strategy for the new league.

Aresco is bringing on former XOS Digital executive Randy Eccker, who led the creation of the groundbreaking SEC Digital Network in 2009, as a consultant to forge a new digital network for The American.

The league could launch a digital net in the next 30 days or so. The online network would provide a broadcast home for The American’s sporting events that are not carried by ESPN, which agreed to pay $130 million for the league’s TV rights.

Aresco looks ahead to conference's future

“We need to modernize and make sure we’re doing all of the innovative things we can,” said Aresco, who has guided the conference’s rebranding from the Big East to The American. “Randy has a lot of experience in this area.”

Eccker just wrapped up digital projects for two other leagues — the Atlantic 10 and the West Coast Conference. The A10’s schools decided to aggregate their rights and put all of their eligible games on one dedicated digital channel. The West Coast decided to partner with Campus Insiders to create a digital channel for its games and some shoulder programming.

Campus Insiders, a joint venture between Chicago-based Silver Chalice and IMG College, is now the home to digital channels for the West Coast, the Mountain West and the Patriot League.

“The hard part is that everyone now has a different definition of what a digital network is,” Eccker said. “The A10, the Patriot League, the Ivy League, the Mountain West, they’re all different. Depending on what rights you have, that will determine how you define a digital network. At this point, every Division I conference has one or is contemplating one, and no two are the same.”

The Mountain West, for example, recently did a TV deal with ESPN and CBS for its top football and men’s basketball games, but the conference held back about 30 games that will be carried exclusively on, including some football and men’s basketball.

By aggregating those conference digital rights and broadcasting live events on, the sales teams at IMG College and Silver Chalice will have close to 200 live football and men’s basketball games to sell against this academic year, according to Silver Chalice COO Jason Coyle.

That’s one route The American is exploring. But before the conference can move forward it must finalize exactly what live events it has the rights to. ESPN’s platforms, including ESPN3, will carry football, men’s basketball and some women’s basketball. A sublicensing deal will send some of those events to CBS Sports Network beginning next year.

That leaves a handful of women’s basketball games, around 30, plus Olympic sports, available to The American’s digital net. The conference championship events not carried by ESPN also will be included in the digital net’s inventory, representing another 20 to 30 games.

Many of the schools in The American will keep their live Olympic sports to carry on their own school websites, but some events could go to the conference’s digital net.

Working through the web of rights is a joint effort between Aresco, Eccker, ESPN and the schools, but a conference digital network is somewhere on the other side. Aresco also envisions a robust offering of shoulder programming in the form of “SportsCenter”-type highlight shows, pregame and postgame reports, and magazine shows. Eccker wants to eventually take the digital net across all screens, including mobile and tablet.