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TV revenue a top priority

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American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco, left, talks with ECU quarterback Shane Carden look across the football field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium during a tour of the athletic facilities Tuesday afternoon. Aresco held a press conference at the Murphy Center to discuss the Pirates joining the AAC. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The television money pouring into the coffers of the college athletic programs aligned with the NCAA’s Power Five conferences continues to be more and more staggering each year, becoming annual fodder for eye-popping stories written by Forbes and others trying to break down just how rich those five leagues are getting.

Meanwhile, the league just on the periphery of the Power Five cash cow is trying to figure out a way to get somewhere remotely close to that. The American Athletic Conference has a true TV man at its helm, and commissioner Mike Aresco is bent on getting a bigger piece of the pie.

Although it does have a contract with ESPN and CBS, the AAC and other members of the so-called Group of Five leagues are bent on narrowing the gap that keeps widening every time Forbes writes another story on the subject.

“We’ve got to remedy that, and we may not get to that level (of the Power Five) and I understand that, but we have to get to a higher level than we have financially, and I think we will because we weren’t as valuable five years ago,” Aresco said of the American’s TV deal, which is set for renegotiation in 2019. “It’s night and day.”

But so is the disparity between the five powerhouse leagues, which Forbes said all gross more than $250 million in TV dollars annually, and the others.

Winning games, especially against those bigger conferences, helps when it comes to the next negotiation. Aresco says perception creates reality but that it must have its basis in that reality. The reality is, according to the commissioner, that the American is already winning those big games and he believes that is going to pay off in actual dollars.

“The competitive success will lead to a better TV deal without question, but we don’t have that right now,” he said. “We have a great TV deal in terms of the ability to brand our conference and promote our conference because it’s got great exposure. We get tremendous windows on ESPN and CBS, but we don’t have the money we need, and we know that.”

The hurdles are considerable and the commissioner acknowledges that, noting his league is still locked out of the College Football Playoff and that it does not have a marquee contract bowl game, leaving the AAC “lumped in” with the Group of Five in terms of revenue sharing.

Part of Aresco’s plan to change the perception and the income of his conference is the Power Six movement, based around the idea that the American is more of a power league than its counterparts on the outside looking in. But still the American must do things its own way, he said, including trying to find what he called a “legislative path” to inclusion in the autonomous Power Five framework.

“We don’t have a typical conference and we know that,” Aresco said. “We have to be more like a Jet Blue or a Southwest Airlines who have become major carriers but have done it differently. We play on Thursdays and Fridays to help get that exposure, and we don’t try to go up against the networks on Saturdays for the most part, though we will as we gain strength. I told someone that if George Washington had attacked the British head on, the revolution would have lasted a week or two. You do what you can and you gain strength each year, almost guerrilla warfare in many respects.

“But look what we’ve done. I don’t think many of those P5 schools that scheduled us realized how good we were, and we defeated a lot of them, 19 wins in two years.”

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on  Twitter.

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