Just who will televise the conference's Sunday night package of games after next season, however, remains in question. It's one of several issues to be worked out in the coming weeks and months as ESPN finalizes the details of its new 12-year, $1.86 billion deal with the ACC, which was first reported earlier this week in the Sports Business Journal.
An executive familiar with the deal, however, told FanHouse that the conference's "Sunday Night Hoops" series, which has been aired by Fox Sports Net's family of regional sports channels since 2001, will continue after the 2010-11 school year, when the league's existing media deals expire.
"It won't go away," said the executive. "The ACC has been fairly happy with that exposure and somebody will continue to air those games."
The bidding for the ACC's new media contract hasn't stirred as much speculation as the Big Ten's rumored expansion plans, but the conference's new deal with ESPN, which has yet to be finalized, certainly has devoted ACC observers and media insiders chattering. The new contract would provide nearly $13 million per year to each of the league's 12 members – an increase of about 160 percent from the ACC's existing deal.
The new sums would also help the ACC schools keep pace with their competitors in the Big Ten, who each reportedly received nearly $22 million in media money last year, and the Southeastern Conference, which paid its members about $17 million apiece thanks to the league's lucrative deals with ESPN and CBS.
According to two executives familiar with the negotiations, ESPN was able to outbid Fox Sports Net with significant help from Raycom Sports, the Charlotte media and event-management company that has owned or syndicated the ACC's media rights for nearly three decades. Raycom provided ESPN with between $50 and $60 million, according to the executives, though it's not clear what the company will receive in return.
An ESPN spokesman said the network is "in the midst of continuing productive discussions with the ACC" and had no statement on the status of the Sunday night basketball games. Neither ACC commissioner John Swofford nor Raycom Sports CEO Ken Haines returned calls seeking comment.
For many years, Raycom owned the league's valuable basketball media contract, produced and distributed games throughout the ACC's geographic footprint and sublicensed national broadcast rights to ESPN and FSN.
The pending ESPN deal has raised questions about the future of the ACC's "Sunday Night Hoops" series. The package has been an FSN property for the last seven years and its unclear whether ESPN would make that time slot available on its packed schedule -- or would have any interest in sublicensing it to a competitor. The Sunday night games have not drawn big ratings, in part because the series did not include the two annual Duke-North Carolina games, which have been split between ESPN and CBS in recent years.
Last year in the country's top-10 markets, FSN's Sunday night games averaged a 0.12 average rating, or roughly 44,000 households, down about 30 percent from the 2008-09 season, according to The Nielsen Company. All told, the games were watched in less than 200,000 homes last year, down about 14 percent from the previous year.
Several TV veterans also indicated that the league's two highest-profile coaches, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams, were not huge fans of the Sunday night games, which usually tip-off at 5:30 p.m. ET.
Despite the meager ratings, the Sunday night series has become a ritual for the ACC's notoriously rabid basketball fans, who have been buzzing about its future in chat rooms and ACC-related websites. On Monday afternoon alone, the topic generated 34 posts at Dukebasketballreport.com.