In the wake of the highly publicized layoffs taking place at ESPN, officials within the ACC have spent the past week assuaging the concerns of conference members, reassuring them that the network still plans to move forward with the ACC Network.
Last week, ESPN laid off over 100 employees in response to rising subscription losses; with no mass return to cable in sight and over $3 billion in ESPN money tied up to pay for the rights to air the NBA and NFL, this led to speculation as to whether the Worldwide Leader in Sports would follow through with its plans to unveil the ACC Network, the conference’s answer to the dedicated channels that Texas and the SEC already enjoy in the ESPN empire. As pointed out in a report from Syracuse.com, and repeated both in private and public by conference commissioner John Swofford, the network and the conference are both still operating with the intention of abiding by the initial schedule, which puts rollout for sometime in 2019.
In speaking with ESPN Syracuse, Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack said that the recent layoffs and troubling subscription numbers will not hinder either side from holding up their end of the deal. Wildhack worked for ESPN for 36 years; from 2007 to 2012, he served as the network’s rights negotiator. He left the company to take the AD job at Syracuse in July 2016.
“It won’t impact our deal with the ACC,” Wildhack said of ESPN’s recent cuts. “Our deal runs through 2036. The ACC Network will launch as scheduled in 2019. I think ESPN will put all their muscle and support toward making sure the launch is a success because they are a partner and they have a vested interest in making sure the ACC Network is a financial success.”
Wildhack’s comments were followed by an internal memo sent from Swofford to all member schools, reiterating that the recent layoffs would not affect the windfall coming their way—the collective being used here to describe commissioners, athletic directors, administrators, and coaches; not players. Swofford doubled down today when speaking with reporters for the ceremonial opening of an ACC restaurant (of course, all benefits will go toward funding scholarships and only scholarships.)
According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Swofford said he spoke with ESPN president John Skipper on Wednesday, who made clear that the network has no plans to renege on its plans to roll out another costly, conference-specific television platform:
“It is 100 percent full speed ahead, without question,” Swofford said. “I saw somewhere some quote-unquote-experts brought up that with the recent layoffs and so forth at ESPN, they’re questioning whether that would go forward. As John Skipper said to me, ‘That has absolutely nothing to do with the ACC Network, we’re 100 percent committed to it. It doesn’t affect that in any way, shape or form.’”
Plans for the ACC channel were announced last July, when the conference penned a 20-year rights deal with ESPN, essentially locking in all conference members and leading to the creation of the digital channel, ACC Extra.
The ACC Network will join ESPN’s already full stock of college sports channels, which includes the struggling Longhorn Network, ESPNU, and the SEC Network. If ESPN actually manages to get the ACC Network up and running by 2019, it will leave the Big 12 (minus Texas) as the only Power Five conference without its own TV channel.