The 2019 ACC men’s basketball tournament was the last separate broadcast for Raycom Sports, ending a significant almost-three-decade run of their syndicated college sports packages. But Raycom has continued its involvement with the ACC since then, producing ACC games for ESPN and the ESPN-owned ACC Network, and doing a lot on the digital side, including the ACCDN Confidential channel with VUit. And they still hold some ACC rights, which is why they’re a key part of a new deal to move early-round ACC Tournament baseball and women’s basketball games that had been on Bally Sports South to ACC Network.
In previous years, 11 women’s basketball tournament games and 12 baseball tournament games (early-round games in both cases) had been carried on Bally Sports South. Sinclair (which owns Bally through Diamond Sports Group), Raycom (which actually owns these particular rights), and ESPN (which owns ACC Network) have now come together for a deal to switch these to ACC Network beginning with the next editions of these tournaments next year. That means that all of the ACC baseball and women’s basketball tournaments will now be shown on ESPN networks, with ACC Network carrying everything up to the finals and ESPN or ESPN2 continuing to show the finals of both tournaments. Michael Smith of Sports Business Journal has more on this deal:
Cleaning up the uneven distribution of those women’s basketball and baseball postseason games evolved into a growing priority for ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, who is in his second year leading the conference. Phillips worked with the conference’s media rights partner, ESPN, and Raycom, a longtime ACC distributor and production partner, to find a better solution.
Phillips: “We are thrilled. … This is a significant moment that will enhance these premier events and provide much-needed access to our fans. We appreciate ESPN, Raycom Sports and Bally for mutually agreeing to make this happen.”
This probably makes sense for all parties. First, for the conference, having all events from a tournament on one family of networks (and really, one network until the finals) is much easier to sell to fans, and a national network like ACCN can be easier to access than specific RSNs (especially with many of the Bally RSNs facing current distribution challenges). This means that they can have consistent, one-network coverage of these events, and one particular place to point fans too. And while ACCN’s distribution numbers aren’t through the roof (a recent estimate pegged them at 42 million homes, well below SEC Network’s 51.2 million and Big Ten Network’s 48.1 million), they’re pretty decent.
One potential downside for fans is for pure cord-cutters who don’t have even a virtual MVPD package, as ACCN is not available outside a bundle (and while Bally Sports South currently is not, that’s set to change this fall with the Bally Sports+ launch). But considering that ACCN is much more available through vMVPDs than Bally Sports networks are (on the vMVPD side, ACCN is available through fubo TV, Sling, Hulu + Live TV, DirecTV Stream, and Vidgo, while the only one of those carrying Bally networks is DirecTV Stream), there are at least options for those who don’t have traditional cable or satellite. And the shift from a direct-to-consumer option to bundle-only here is less of an issue than it would be in other areas, as other games from these tournaments were already on ACCN. Now, those looking to watch these tournaments only need to access ACCN (and ESPN/ESPN2, but that’s a given in most bundles including ACCN), not Bally Sports South as well.
Meanwhile, this is also advantageous for ESPN and ACC Network, which can now say they have the entire rights to these tournaments. That helps both on-air (no awkward promotion of events on other networks) and off-air (no outside networks to work with on scheduling, easier marketing of tournaments they have full rights to). And while this is a slight content loss for Bally Sports South, it’s not a particularly crucial one; college sports has usually been additional content rather than key content for those RSNs. And for Raycom, under their current production model, it shouldn’t matter too much which network carries the games they’re producing. So it seems positive that the conference, ESPN/ACCN, Bally, and Raycom were able to come together to strike this deal.