Raycom Sports has been a major player in college sports dating back to the early 1980s. It has had a unique business model, linking various local network affiliates to a syndicated package of games. This week, Raycom’s run at syndicating college football and basketball will come to an end with the ACC Tournament.
At one time, Raycom’s power extended to the ACC, Big Ten, Big 8 (now Big 12), Pac-10 (now Pac-12), and leagues that don’t exist anymore, like the Metro and Southwest Conferences.
Raycom’s contract with the ACC allowed the programmer to blackout national broadcasts of its games that were also televised by NBC and ESPN within the conference footprint. That changed in 2011 when ESPN took over as the primary ACC rightsholder, but Raycom’s influence with the league cannot be measured.
Back in 1981, Raycom Sports, along with fellow syndicator Jefferson-Pilot Sports, submitted a successful joint bid to broadcast the ACC and began airing games in the 1982-83 season. Its first ACC Tournament was at the old Omni in Atlanta, where North Carolina State and coach Jim Valvano began their magical run to the NCAA Championship.
Raycom hired some of the top announcers and producers, who provided network quality content over the years. Some announcers who worked with Raycom on the ACC included Billy Packer, Tim Brando, Tim Brant, Dan Bonner, Mike Gminski, Mike Patrick, Jim Thacker, and Brad Nessler, among others.
In ESPN’s early days, the network would utilize Raycom’s broadcasts for the ACC and Big Ten. But as ESPN became more popular, it was able to gain more games from Raycom. Games on Raycom got big ratings, so much that network affiliates would often preempt programming from ABC, CBS, and NBC.
In the 1990s, Raycom and ABC formed a partnership in which the network would air games that would be produced by Raycom and called by ABC announcers like Keith Jackson, Brent Musburger, Terry Gannon, and Dick Vitale. Note: Raycom used country star Travis Tritt on this open.
Eventually, ESPN would gain more prominence and reduce Raycom’s influence. In 2007, ESPN signed a contract with the SEC that would take over those rights from Raycom, thus forming the original SEC Network (prior to the launch of the SEC Network cable channel). The 2008 SEC Tournament would mark the last time that Raycom would syndicate games from the conference. Raycom bid farewell with well-known announcers like NBC’s Tom Hammond and Fox’s Tim Brando:
Raycom will be involved in the operation of the ACC Network, and has signed a contract with ESPN to produce games for the new network. The company will also continue to manage the ACC’s website and digital rights.
Rather than having the games air on over-the-air television, they will air on cable and online. Fans who were used to seeing Raycom’s package of games on their local stations will instead have to watch through their local cable provider.
The company will still produce sports programming, but its presence won’t be as prominent as in the past. After Saturday’s ACC Championship game, an era in college sports will be over
[Photo courtesy RaycomSports.com]