ACC, ESPN reach 12-year TV deal

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Atlantic Coast Conference and ESPN have agreed to a 12-year deal that would give the network exclusive rights to conference football and men's basketball games.

A person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press that it's worth $1.86 billion over the 12 years. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because financial terms were not released when the two sides announced the deal Thursday.

That would double the league's annual TV revenue when the contract begins in the 2011-12 season. It would also give ESPN syndication rights that would allow Raycom Sports to carry games and maintain its long-running regional broadcasting relationship with the league.

Partnering with ESPN ends talk for now about the ACC following the lead of the Big Ten by creating its own television network. Commissioner John Swofford said the league did its "due diligence" by researching the issue, but said the ACC opted to avoid the upfront startup costs and the financial risk in favor of utilizing ESPN's in-place broadcast and multimedia outlets.

"When you go with somebody for that kind of money with no financial risk and they have the extensive platforms they have to distribute your games -- plus they have the technology and the desire to be on the cutting edge with new media -- it really begs the question: Why would you need your own network?" Swofford said.

The agreement marks the first time the ACC has negotiated one contract to bundle broadcasting rights for football and basketball. The previous deal brought in an average of about $72 million in TV money annually, which the league distributes evenly among its 12 members -- an average of about $6 million per school.

By contrast, the ESPN deal would bring an average of $155 million in TV money per year, an average of more than $12.9 million per school. Those payouts don't include money from bowl games, NCAA tournaments or any other revenue the league distributes to member schools.

Thursday's announcement comes after 15 months of negotiations and a season in which league schools won a record eight national championships, with Duke's NCAA title in men's basketball marking the ACC's fifth crown in 10 seasons. It also comes despite the national economic downturn and the recent possibility of widespread conference expansion and realignment -- which ultimately amounted only to a handful of schools.

"We have been stable, are stable, and I think this [deal] will enhance that," Swofford said.

In a conference call with reporters, ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper said there are provisions in the agreement pertaining to future ACC realignment, though he said the deal would remain in place regardless of whether the league gained or lost schools.

"This is the first time we at ESPN have basically done an all-in deal with a conference where we worked to be able to acquire all their product," Skipper said. "I think that speaks to how much we value the product that's in the ACC."

For football, ESPN would broadcast conference-controlled games -- typically home nonconference or league matchups -- on Saturdays, Thursday nights and Labor Day on one of its channels or online. ESPN would also carry the league's championship game.

In men's basketball, the network would carry all league games in the same fashion. The deal would also include the entire women's basketball tournament and more non-revenue sports.

ESPN, which said some games would appear through its partnership with ABC, said there will also be some game simulcasts through its mobile service and there will no longer be local blackouts for games that are also being broadcast regionally.

"We're offering fans a choice," Skipper said. "They can watch Raycom or they can watch ESPN and we believe we'll see the overall rating go up."