ACC Network carriage deal with Dish was worthy of a sideline celebration
Standing on the sidelines before the Georgia Tech-Clemson game on Aug. 29, Roz Durant was as antsy as I’ve ever seen her.
The personable ESPN executive excused herself from multiple conversations to take a variety of business calls. She was animated — enthusiastically waving her free hand when she made a point and plugging her ear when she needed to listen.
Durant doesn’t drink caffeine; she doesn’t need to. A few hours earlier, however, facing a long day and evening, she downed a caffeinated cashew latte.
But it wasn’t the caffeine that made her jumpy. It was the content of those phone calls. In those minutes leading up to kickoff, Durant, ESPN’s senior vice president of college networks, found out that Dish Network agreed to carry ACC Network — an important deal that involves the country’s fourth-biggest distributor.
One of the most optimistic people in sports media, it’s not unusual to see Durant with a smile on her face. But on this occasion, she was beaming and couldn’t wait to share the news.
She told ESPN colleagues who were around her and immediately tried to dial ACC Commissioner John Swofford so that she could personally deliver the news to him.
Swofford was leaving the press area and was in an elevator when Durant tried to call. Between a cellphone signal that cut out and the amount of noise in the stadium, Durant decided to walk 100 yards from one end of the football field down the sidelines to the other end, where Swofford was headed. It was now about a half hour before kickoff.
“I have some great news to give you,” Durant told Swofford. “Tonight’s game will be on Dish Network. The deal is done.”
Swofford broke into a huge, wide-eyed smile. He fist-bumped Durant. Then they shared a long hug.
“This whole day has been a celebration,” Durant said immediately after telling Swofford about the Dish Network deal. “That is a great way to lead into kickoff.”
ACC Network has had some hiccups, especially compared to SEC Network, which launched five years earlier to virtually full distribution. Comcast does not carry it. Neither does AT&T’s U-verse.
But Swofford said ESPN executives who are leading these negotiations have been good about keeping the conference updated. “The distribution is exactly where they said it would be,” he said. “[Dish] is a big one. That helps build momentum for other deals.”
■ ■ ■ ■
Durant’s position overseeing ACC Network’s launch is an important one at ESPN. It’s a job that already has proved to be a springboard within the company. Justin Connolly, who oversaw SEC Network’s launch, was a candidate for the ESPN president job last year. Earlier this summer, Connolly was promoted to president of media distribution for all of Disney.
Durant is not vying for those types of roles — at least that’s what she says publicly. But her position is a high-profile one that depends on her personality to maintain relationships with everyone from the ACC’s schools to the conference’s executives.
During the game, Durant made a point to meet up with administrators from both schools by visiting their suites. When she poked her head into Clemson President James Clements’ suite in the first half, he boomed out her name: “Roz!”
He introduced Durant to the people in the suite, most of whom were well-heeled donors. “This is the woman in charge of our network,” Clements announced to the suite.
Durant expects to get to games about twice a month — a chance to visit school administrators and her own production team.
“If there’s any troubleshooting to be done, that’s my job,” Durant said. “I don’t want them to worry about it. I’m here to take their place.”
As an example, Durant mentioned production meetings in the days before the game when ESPN staffers tried to come up with Clemson alums who could appear on air during the pregame show. A country music fan, Durant immediately thought of Lee Brice, a country music star who played football at Clemson.
“He’s cool and he can talk football,” Durant laughed.
The group liked the idea, but weren’t sure how to contact him. Durant called Clements, the Clemson president, who said they were friends. Clements introduced the two, and Durant convinced Brice to participate in ACC Network’s pregame show.
Before the game, Durant saw Brice on the sidelines and went over and talked to him. They shared an animated conversation and laughs while the crowd shouted to him and begged for selfies.
Durant, though, ended the conversation abruptly. Her cellphone was buzzing again.