ACC on ESPN rights agreement speculation: Just the facts

ESPN and the ACC recently announced an extension to their exclusive agreement through 2026-27.

Editor’s note: Burke Magnus is ESPN’s Senior Vice President, College Sports Programming.

Over the weekend, there was widespread speculation and confusion regarding ESPN’s recent rights agreement extension with the Atlantic Coast Conference. In response, we want to take the opportunity to explain a few key facts related to our ACC agreement.

First, a rights fee payment schedule that escalates in amount over the term is a commonplace provision in major college conference deals. This arrangement is not unique to the ACC. The pre-existing agreement between ESPN and the ACC (that carried through 2023) had an escalating rights fee schedule and the deal we announced last week contains a similar schedule. There is nothing unusual about how ESPN is paying the ACC over the life of this deal. It’s the industry standard.

Secondly, the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse as ACC members triggered a composition clause in the existing agreement. This clause is designed to allow for both partners to address the value of the conference taking into account the change in membership. There was no specific valuation formula based on total number of schools or on a per school basis. It is not an “out clause” nor does it trigger a complete renegotiation of the entire agreement. Again, conference composition clauses are standard in our industry and are part of every ESPN college rights agreement.

Lastly, the term “third-tier rights” means different things in different conference agreements. In the new ACC extension (as was the case in the original 2011-2023 agreement), ESPN retains exclusive rights to all football and men’s basketball games. Additionally, ESPN retains the first selection rights to women’s basketball and all other ACC sports such as baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, etc. Whatever is not selected for coverage and distribution by ESPN from these sports is retained by the member institutions.

The new agreement with the ACC provided a win for all involved. Fans will be served with more ACC content than ever before through a wide variety of outlets, devices and technologies. ESPN added value through four more years of an ACC agreement, plus more football games, more basketball games, more ACC sports content and new sponsorship rights for conference championships. The ACC has received significant additional financial compensation and unprecedented exposure for the added value and the longer term.

While ESPN has televised college sports for more than three decades, we recognize the rights landscape is evolving and more competitive than ever, and fans are savvier about their content choices. Our company works hard to provide fans with the widest selection of content from the schools and conferences they love.

  • Hayden Thomas

    ESPN reporting on its own contracts. Clearly no bias here.

  • moneymangls

    I understand the above fully as I am in the business. However, what steps will ESPN take to better serve the concerns of FSU and other ACC schools that this contract falls considerably short of other conference media rights. Importantly, as you know, the ACC has a higher nielson rating for its football than at least 3 of the 6 other BCS conferences. This being the case, how did ESPN come to the table with a less than equal financial package than what the Big 12 expects…and with more rights in the third tier? Was this financial package simply a fact that the ACC did not have rights to negotiate with other networks? Is ESPN willing to let its lead conference for content be hit hard by team (s) potentially leaving due to this package?

    I believe that answering these questions will more than adequately quell the conference discord we presently are seeing.

    Thank you.
    moneymangls (espn insider for many years)

  • Don Shine

    Blah, blah, blah. This answers nothing regarding the issues between the ACC and FSU. Oh, because ESPN came out on the winning side of this agreement doesn’t diminish the fact that FSU’s interests aren’t being served. So, either post the entire agreement for public view or stay out of it.

  • Larry

    ACC struck a horrible deal, ESPN struck a great deal.

  • Jericho

    Larry is somewhat correct. The ACC deal was struck prior to NBC/Comcast becoming a major player in the cable sports industry and during the height of the recession. The ACC deal may have represented fair market value at the time, but that market has risen considerably in the last few years. The renegotiation that the ACC/ESPN went through helped a bit, but could only go so far as the clause the ACC invoked only allowed so much. It did not put the entire conference back on the open market and is likely not what the present day market value of the ACC is.

    Think of it like selling a house right before the big market boom in the mid-00s. If one waited, one would get more money. Similarly, those that bought a house at the height of the market are now underwater. The ACC mistimed the market. I don’t know if that’s their fault as these things are tough to predict. But in the end they suffer for a bad contract.