The upcoming August 22 launch of the ACC Network has plenty of implications on the TV side, especially with three games there on opening weekend and with many big providers still without deals to carry the network. But that network’s launch is also going to have implications for streaming-only content; ESPN put out a release Thursday about exclusive content for “ACC Network Extra,” or digital-only content within the ESPN app that will require authentication of a cable or satellite subscription to ACC Network. That platform’s going to have a lot of content from a variety of less prominent sports, including 168 volleyball games, 108 women’s soccer games and 91 men’s soccer games, but it also will feature five football games exclusively this year, and more non-exclusively. Thanks to ESPN’s football schedules, we’ve now seen five games in Weeks 2 and 3 listed as “ACCNX.”
Update: However, it turns out those five aren’t all exclusive to ACCNX. Two of the games below are airing on the Fox Sports regional networks (in the process of being sold to Sinclair), and thus, streaming on Fox Sports Go (which is becoming just a RSN app, with Fox shifting their remaining networks’ streaming to the Fox Sports app) as well. They’re indicated in the list below. Thus, if you want to watch these through ESPN’s app, you’ll need to be able to authenticate that you have access to ACC Network through your cable/satellite/streaming provider.
This is part of a larger shift; the ACC tends to have a RSN game each week, and those were formerly accessible through ESPN3 (so, just an ESPN authentication), but they’ll require an ACCNX authentication (so, a subscription to ACC Network) this year. However, the games on the Fox Sports regional networks (which will total 17 this season) can be watched on those linear networks or on Fox Sports Go (with authentication of a subscription to those networks) regardless of if you have ACC Network. Here’s the list of the first two weeks’ ACCNX games:
Saturday, Sept. 7 (Week 2):
Western Carolina at NC State, 12:30 PM (FOX Sports South & Fox Sports Go)
Richmond at Boston College, 12:30 PM
North Carolina A&T at Duke, 3:00 PM
Eastern Kentucky at Louisville, 4:00 PM
Saturday, Sept 14 (Week 3):
The Citadel at Georgia Tech, 12:30 PM (Fox Sports Southeast & Fox Sports Go)
Judging by ESPN’s language about exclusive events, there may still be two more ACCNX exclusive games coming later this year. And there will definitely be more Fox RSN games, and if you want to stream a game that’s on the Fox RSNs and don’t have access to those channels, you’ll need ACCNX. But the Fox RSNs may be an option for some games for some people that don’t have ACC Network. (Those RSNs have their own carriage battles, though.)
Those are all FCS teams, so these aren’t necessarily the biggest games in the world. But there certainly will be fans of the teams in question interested in watching those games, and for the exclusive ones, they’ll now need an ACC Network subscription to do so. (And they’ll also need that for the RSN games if they don’t have access to those RSNs.)
And that’s a change compared to the ACC’s previous digital-only content; back in July 2016 when the ACC Network deal was announced, ESPN decided to launch a digital “ACC Network Plus” that August as part of the lead-up to the 2019 launch of the linear network, but it was largely just for branding to this point; digital-only games involving ACC teams were found within the ESPN app just like ESPN3 content, but with ACC Network branding instead, requiring just an ESPN subscription to access. The RSN games were also in that category. Now, digital-only ACC content is now about to involve another hurdle, and one that will still carry some challenges given the numerous providers that haven’t signed on to carry the network.
Of course, this isn’t just about extra hurdles for games people would have been able to watch otherwise. These numbers of volleyball and soccer games in particular probably wouldn’t have been shown without this network and its accompanying digital arm, and certainly not at the production levels they’ll be shown at; the conference’s schools have reportedly spent $110-120 million combined to build the production infrastructure to handle showing all these events. And these kinds of authentication hurdles aren’t new; ESPN already does something similar with SEC Network +. But with this batch of early ACCNX football games being in Week 2 or Week 3, they’re another thing to consider in the carriage dispute discussion. It’s not just the games on linear ACCN that will be unavailable to those whose providers don’t have a carriage deal, but the ones on ACCNX as well.