CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) - The Atlantic Coast Conference finally has its TV channel airing hundreds of league sporting events each year thanks in no small measure to its schools.
Administrations around the ACC played a critical role in getting the channel up and running, spending millions to ensure campus broadcast and production facilities were capable of handling telecasts.
Universities carved out space in current structures in some instances and in other situations built new ones to house state-of-the-art equipment. The facilities include features such as multiple control rooms with display-covered walls or studios with green-screen backdrops and broadcast desks. Designs varied as the only requirement was to ensure the ability to handle a linear broadcast (an event airing at a scheduled time).
“It was an investment in having the network and a number of our schools went beyond the initial investment,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And I think wisely so, because there’s so many other things that can tie into that benefit them beyond the network. . They decided to go ahead and jump in, do it and get it done from the very beginning rather than piecemeal it along the way.”
The ESPN-partnered ACC Network launched last week, roughly three years after the league announced it was going forward with the long-discussed venture. The channel carries its first football game Thursday with reigning national champion Clemson hosting Georgia Tech, one of 450 live events airing annually alongside original programming.
Throw in digital-only companion ACC Network Extra, and the event number hits 1,300 annually.
ESPN generally plans to send production trucks to campuses for college football games, said Meg Aronowitz, an ESPN coordinating producer who worked with schools on their network facilities. Yet broadcasts for nonrevenue sports along with numerous men’s and women’s basketball games will go through campuses.
“There’s not a game that big where we would say, ‘Hmm, the schools probably can’t handle this level of game,’” Aronowitz said. “They are ready and they have spent a significant amount of money on resources to put some of the best production facilities in the country on campus.”
The ACC hasn’t publicized financial projections for the network but is looking to shrink a growing gap with its power-conference peers.
For tax filings covering the 2017-18 school year, the ACC’s total revenue had grown to a league-record $464.7 million. That lagged far behind the Big Ten (758.9 million) and the Southeastern Conference ($659.9 million), while also trailing the Pac-12 ($496.9 million) - all of which have their own networks.
The ACC increased its average payout to 14 full-time members to $29.5 million (up from $26.6 million for 2016-17), while Notre Dame received about $7.9 million in a partial share as a football independent with its own NBC TV deal.
Yet the Big Ten distributed nearly $54 million per school when factoring out reduced shares for past-decade additions Maryland and Rutgers, while the SEC averaged $43.2 million. The 10-team Big 12 reported less revenue without a network, but had a higher per-school distribution ($34.6 million) with fewer mouths to feed, while ACC and Pac-12 averages were virtually even.
League schools have already handled streaming and some linear broadcasts in recent years, though the increased volume for a 24/7 channel required expanded or new facilities. Yet Dean Jordan, a global media managing executive with the Wasserman media group, noted schools can also use the facilities for their own needs, such as controlling gameday videoboard presentations in stadiums or producing videos for websites and social media.
“Given how schools communicate through their social platforms, through their school websites . how video is used in recruiting, these facilities are not luxuries,” said Jordan, who worked with the league in network negotiations with ESPN. “They’re becoming must-haves in this day and age.”
That explains why schools were ready to spend.
Georgia Tech completed its $10 million renovation in April of a building adjacent to the McCamish Pavilion basketball arena as a video operations center, while Virginia Tech had $10 million to set up its facility in the end zone of football’s Lane Stadium.
Louisville spent $8 million on its facility that was a former home to university offices in a one-time waterbed warehouse within walking distance of campus and fiber-connected to athletics venues, while Clemson spent about $7.5 million in the McFadden Building once home to football and other athletics offices.
North Carolina State spent nearly $7 million to create space in the Murphy Center football building at Carter-Finley Stadium, incorporating a largely unused racquetball court requested by former coach Chuck Amato when Murphy opened. The court’s hardwood floor is visible now in offices and rooms housing computer equipment for the network project.
There were also some crossovers to the academic side. Pittsburgh completed its $12 million facility last fall in the Petersen Events Center home to its basketball programs, with students having access to the “Pitt Studios” space as the athletic department collaborates with the university on creating a broadcast curriculum.
And at Syracuse, the athletics department partnered with the communications school to use the existing control rooms and broadcast studios named for late alumnus and TV icon Dick Clark.
While many projects have been long completed, North Carolina spent August putting the final touches on a new $15 million building to house network needs and other offices.
The network space includes matching main control rooms, a broadcast desk and a camera room for remote interviews. Beyond the network needs, there’s an audio room for recording podcasts or radio interviews, as well as space for video or photo shoots - saving hours formerly lost to lugging equipment around campus.
“A project of this scale really only comes around once in a lifetime,” said Ken Cleary, a UNC assistant athletics director overseeing new media. “The biggest challenge is to make a decision that can be within the budget that you’ve got, but is the most forward-looking in that you account for whatever technology may be on the horizon … because you don’t know what’s going to happen. But you’ve only got the once chance to do it.”
AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen in Boston; Gary B. Graves in Louisville, Kentucky; Will Graves in Pittsburgh; Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina; John Kekis in Syracuse, New York; Hank Kurz in Richmond, Virginia; and Charles Odum in Atlanta; contributed to this report.
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