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New Haven Register (Connecticut)
The American Athletic Conference turns five years old on Sunday. The best birthday gift it could possibly get could still be a year or so away.
On July 1, 2020, the AAC's TV deal with ESPN expires. It's a deal that was signed in February, 2013, amidst the upheaval of conference realignment, and pales in comparison to the deals of the Power Five leagues.
Case in point: This past fiscal year, the University of Michigan received a revenue distribution of $51 million from the Big Ten, much of it TV money. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the American Athletic Conference brought in about $74 million in revenue.
In other words, one school in the Big Ten brought in about two-thirds of what the entire American Conference earned.
So while Michigan got about $51 million from the Big Ten, UConn got about $8 million from the American. And a good portion of that came from NCAA basketball tournament units and exit fee money from schools that left the old Big East conference years agolivestreammoney that will have evaporated within the next year or so when its six-year time frame has expired.
The AAC's current TV deal with ESPN (as well as CBS) will bring the league a little more than $20 million this year, to be pretty much divided equally among its 12 teams. The Big Ten, through TV deals with ESPN and Fox, not to mention its own league network, rakes home upwards of $500 million per year.
And it's not just the Big Ten that's blowing the doors off the AAC financially. According to the Orlando Sentinel, SEC members received an average distribution of $41 million. Big 12 programs got $36.5 mill, ACC members between $25.3 and $30.7 million and Pac-12 schools $30.9 million.
So when AAC commissioner Mike Aresco sits down with ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro at some pointlivestreameither during the league's 30-day exclusive negotiating period with ESPN no later than February, 2019, or perhaps soonerlivestreamthe stakes will be nothing short of seismic.
"It's hard to overstate how important this TV deal is for us," Aresco told Hearst Connecticut Media. "We're on the verge of being a Power Six conference. We won three New Year's bowl games the last five years. That's when you know you're a power conference. We need a TV deal to reflect that. That doesn't mean we're going to get the kind of deal other Power Six conferences have, but we need to get into that range. It's warranted, based on the ratings we get."
Aresco noted that the league has had 94 football games that have had least 1 million viewers in its history, topped by UCF's 34-27 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl that attracted more than 8 million viewers and had the Knights, at least, proclaiming themselves national champions. The AAC's regular-season games on ABC and Fox last year outrated Big 12 games, according to Aresco, and its teams provided nearly as many NFL draft picks.
Men's basketball ratings have also been up, the commissioner added, and should continue to rise if UConn and Memphis return to their winning ways. Of course, the league boasts what Aresco called the "crown jewel" of women's hoops in UConn, and it's a top-five baseball conference, as well.
UConn coaches recognize the impact that a bigger, better TV deal can have.
"Obviously, you need the exposure, kids want to play on national TV in high-level games," said Dan Hurley. "From that standpoint, it's critical in recruiting, and it's critical from a financial standpoint. College basketball and football are in an arms race, for lack of a better term, in terms of facilities, program growth, things you're putting around your playerslivestreamthe way they travel, how they train, etc."
Added Randy Edsall: "Finances and revenue generated is huge. So, hopefully the powers that be can get the best possible deal they can for everybody in the conference. When you go from where we were to where we are now, it's different. From being at our meetings, I know they're working very diligently and very hard to come up with the very best deal possible."
'We Know We've Got Value'
Besides the league's recent success in football and other sports, Aresco believes there are several other factors that will get the AAC a significantly better TV pact this time around.
Back in 2013, instability was still running rampant in college sportslivestreamand nowhere more so than in what was still called the Big East. West Virginia had left the year before, and Syracuse was in its final season. Louisville and Rutgers would be sticking around for just one more year.
Worse, the so-called "Catholic 7" was still in limbo, having already announced that they would be breaking off from the rest of the league, but still unsure when. Ultimately, they were gone the following season, as welllivestreamtaking the Big East name with them in exchange for a monetary payout to the remaining schools.
So there was a lot of confusion in the air when NBC reached a TV deal with the conference that was never announced livestream and was ultimately matched by ESPN, as was its right to do. A deal that will pay its member schools about $2 million apiece this year.
"There was disarray," Aresco noted. "We were victims in the upheaval resulting from conference realignment. It was the worst time for negotiations. We weren't sure about membership, nobody knew what we had. They didn't know what we had in football."
Although the wheels of conference realignment could always start churning again at any second, there appears to be more stability this time around.
"I happen to think a lot of Power Five conferences are as big as they want to be," Aresco said. "I think the Pac 12 is happy at 10, the Big 10 is happy with what they have. This conference has the chance to look inward and build its Power Six brand."
Then there's this: the ACC, SEC and other Power Five leagues are locked into TV deals for the foreseeable future. The American may be the only high-level league due for a new deal over the next five or six years.
"We know we've got value," Aresco continued, "now we're just trying to realize it. I think we have a good understanding of what it might be worth, how our product might be used. We're looking for multiples of what we got before. If a deal had been negotiated five years ago with this conference, it would have been a different story. And, the world has changed. ESPN still values a good product, and I wouldn't think they'd want to turn away a valuable product."
Aresco had had a number of productive conversations with former ESPN president John Skipper before Skipper abruptly resigned in December. He has had phone conversations with Pitaro, who replaced Skipper in March, but nothing formal yet.
The league is hoping to have serious discussions with Pitaro as soon as later this summer or in early fall. Perhaps the league could renew its relationship with ESPN before then and restructure the final year of the current deal.
"We need to get paid for what we've done," Aresco said. "It's going to be an interesting negotiation. A lot of different platforms are interested in our product. We love ESPN, so we hope we can get something done."
If nothing is worked out by the end of February, 2019, the AAC can negotiate with other parties. It wouldn't be able to agree to a deal for less than what ESPN turned down.
Either way, the ramifications for the American Conference's new TV deal are nothing short of massive.
"I don't want to say make-or-break," said Aresco, "but it's just about that important."
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