ACC Network

In the lead-up to the August 22 launch of the ACC Network, much of the coverage has rightly been focused on its carriage situation, both with providers signing on and with those who haven’t yet come to a deal. But we’re also learning more and more about what the network will look like when it launches, including their announcement of their football personnel lineup. And a piece from Sports Business Journal‘s Michael Smith earlier this week illustrates that the network’s looking to bring some new technology to their broadcasts as well.

Smith’s piece outlines that one tangible change already in the works is goalpost cameras for soccer, which has been tried on ESPN’s MLS broadcasts but not at the NCAA level. To start with, five schools (Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia) will receive new goalposts that have holes cut out for the cameras. Amy Rosenfeld, a 12-year ESPN veteran who’s a senior coordinating producer with the company and also the head of production for ACC Network, told Smith she’s eager to try out new technologies to help differentiate ACC Network broadcasts:

“Got a new twist on the pylon cam or the helmet cam, we’ll test it. The schools have been very forward-thinking about wanting to be the leaders in that way and pushing access.”

She also has her sights on several other production enhancements, such as never-before-tried camera angles, microphones in the ground to pick up additional audio and more miked players and coaches.

“We want to take some creative chances.”

“We want to be the beta test for a lot of technical initiatives,” she said. “Immersive reality, augmented reality, new camera angles — why not? We’re going to be in the weeds as a test pilot.”

Interestingly enough, while conference schools are spending a fair amount of money to build broadcast and production facilities ahead of the network’s launch (last summer saw estimates of $110-120 million per school), they won’t have to pay for particular pieces of technology like the new goalposts; Smith’s piece notes that “ESPN is covering the costs of any new equipment that’s implemented for a broadcast.” And that’s significant as an illustration of how ESPN’s approaching this new network; they’re putting in a fair bit of money early on to try and make this launch as big as possible.

But that’s not just about ESPN throwing money at this, as ACC Network experiments could have a couple of different benefits for them. Successful innovations there might help build some buzz around the network in the crucial early days, but ACC Network also allows ESPN to test new production techniques out in front of a smaller audience on a new network; if they work, they could be used more widely, but if they don’t work well, some growing pains are to be expected on a new network, and the blowback likely will be smaller than if something went awry during an event on ESPN’s main channel.

It’s notable that the experiments aren’t just limited to technology, either. They’re also trying out some different shoulder programming ideas, including separate all-access shows for both Louisville and Clemson in training camp. All-access shows alone aren’t a new format (in college football alone, Showtime did three A Season With seasons on Notre Dame, Florida State, and Navy, while Netflix’s Last Chance U just put out its fourth season covering community college football, and in the moves most similar to this, ESPN did a behind-the-scenes series at Alabama’s training camp last year and has previously done all-access shows with Texas on Longhorn Network), but it’s interesting to see a new network doing two early ones. (Similarly, Big 12 Now, the Big 12’s new ESPN+ digital network, is doing an 18-part behind-the-scenes series on Les Miles at Kansas.) Rosenfeld told Smith all-access shows make sense for a conference network like this, as the production crews for these come from the schools, allowing them to build trust with coaches and players. Here’s more on the Louisville show and other upcoming shoulder programming from an ESPN release:

All Access: Louisville Football
In an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into first-year head coach Scott Satterfield’s Louisville football team, he and his staff go beyond the X’s and O’s to create a winning culture and family atmosphere to revive the proud football program. The one-hour show will feature the charismatic personalities of Satterfield’s staff as it looks to inject a renewed energy into the players and community, while the Cardinals prepare for their season-opening game against Notre Dame and a challenging ACC schedule.

The Bowden Dynasty
The Bowden Dynasty is a feature-length documentary film that explores the life and times of Bobby Bowden, the legendary coach with a team of loyal assistants and players who fought against all odds and countless obstacles to collect two national championships and an unprecedented 14 straight top 5 finishes at Florida State. The Bowden Dynasty extends beyond football, to explore universal themes of family and redemption. For all the accolades bestowed upon head coach Bobby Bowden and his teams for their on-field achievements, this film shares stories of the coach and his enormous impact on those around him.

ACC Traditions
ACC Traditions, a series of 15 30-minute programs produced in partnership with Raycom Sports, focuses on the unique and rich traditions across the league’s 15 campuses, while showcasing a mix of fun, archival and new footage and interviews. Highlighting the 2019-20 slate are Boston College’s Red Bandana Game, Clemson’s Howard’s Rock, Krzyzewskiville and the Cameron Crazies at Duke, Florida State’s Renegade and Chief Osceola, Georgia Tech’s Ramblin’ Wreck, and “Skipper” the cannon at Virginia Tech. Additional programs will debut on ACCN during the 2020-21 season.

It’s interesting to see ACCN also dive into feature-length documentaries, something that’s long been an emphasis at ESPN. Beyond their 30 for 30 brand and their other ESPN Films projects, they’ve also explored conference-specific documentaries on their league networks; SEC Network has done this with 38 SEC Storied documentaries so far, while Longhorn Network has also put out documentaries on individual Texas teams, players, and student efforts. And it makes sense; documentaries can generate a decent non-game audience if done well, and they can also help networks get buzz early on (and can even be pointed to in carriage negotiations as an example of what the network will show outside of games).

It’s also significant to see a particular Raycom Sports partnership project announced here. When Raycom signed off from their last independent broadcast in March, it was mentioned that they would continue to produce games and create other content for the ACC Network, but there weren’t a lot of details on what that other content would involve. Now we know some of it with this ACC Traditions series, and that’s a project that feels like a natural fit for Raycom given their long history of covering the conference (they teamed with Jefferson-Pilot Communications to take over an ACC package for the 1980-81 basketball season, and have been involved with the conference since).

We’ll see how all these different technology experiments and broadcasting plans work out for the ACC Network. Elsewhere, some technological innovations have become widely accepted, as have some new broadcasting approaches. But others haven’t panned out. We’ll find out which categories these new moves wind up in.

[Sports Business Journal]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.