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AAC, ESPN have deal through 2032

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Construction is pictured near East Carolina football's Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Feb. 25.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Mike Aresco’s push for the American Athletic Conference to raise its national profile picked up more steam Wednesday with a new AAC deal that will provide more coverage of its games with ESPN through 2031-32.

The country’s premier sports television company and the AAC officially announced their new partnership, which will begin for the 2020-21 academic year, on Wednesday afternoon. Financial terms were not disclosed, although East Carolina sources and media reports already have suggested each American school is set to receive about $7 million per year. That would be an increase from the $2-3 million they each receive now for media rights, including from ESPN.

Aresco, the AAC commissioner, described the deal as a historic moment for the conference, nationally regarded as the best among the so-called Group of Five schools. ECU joined in 2014 when leaving Conference USA.

“This agreement positions us well in a changing media landscape and moves us closer to our Power Six goal,” Aresco said during a joint teleconference Wednesday, referring to the American’s campaign to gain inclusion with the Power Five framework. “Although we did not release financial information, this agreement provides financial security and additional resources for our member schools.”

Even with this improved deal, the American is still in catch-up mode.

The Associated Press reported last week that among all the Power Five leagues — the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 — the ACC had the smallest revenue distribution payouts last year at an average of $26.6 million per school.

ECU officials said in December that $20 million in university money was designated to settle a deficit in its athletics budget and to make significant capital improvements to athletics facilities.

Beyond select Navy football games and select men’s basketball games, all conference-controlled football and men’s basketball games will air on an ESPN network or ESPN-plus. The league release said a minimum of 40 regular-season football telecasts per season will be on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.

An ESPN-plus-specific subscription, which cost $4.99 per month, is required to watch ESPN-plus content.

The Pirates currently stream some of their games, including baseball, for free on ecupirates.com. Some of those aspects will change as more ESPN elements are implemented and more games go to ESPN-plus.

“ESPN-plus is the cutting-edge future,” Aresco said of the streaming service that launched in April of 2018. “It’s exceptionally reasonably priced and easy to access and use. … Our Olympic sports and women’s basketball teams will especially benefit from the ESPN-plus exposure.”

East Carolina reported last year that its athletics deficit was projected to be at $4,223,699 at the end of this fiscal year.

Improvements are currently being conducted to football areas of the Ward Building near Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Significant renovations also are planned for later this spring to the strength and conditioning portion of the Murphy Center connected to the Pirates’ football stadium, which also is nearing the completion of its $60 million Southside Renovation Project.

Other AAC teams are dealing with deficits, including Connecticut, where its athletic department in 2018 had $80,905,645 in expenses and generated $40,418,969 in revenue, the Hartford Courant reported in January. The newspaper also reported the Huskies received more than $8.5 million in student fees and more than $30 million in additional institutional support amid athletics budget concerns.

The new deal should help in the American distancing itself from the other Group of Five conferences. The AP reported that the Mountain West pays its schools about $1 million annually in media rights distribution, the Mid-American Conference about $800,000 and Conference USA and the Sun Belt both about $500,000.

Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior executive for vice president of programming and scheduling, lauded Aresco for his work for the American’s future.

“Quite frankly, without your drive and your dedication and results that your institutions have seen on courts and fields and subscribing to your vision for a Power Six world, none of this would have been possible,” Magnus said. “Mike deserves an unbelievable amount of credit here. His vision and our vision came together.

“This is a long-term agreement that secures this content on Disney platforms for 12 years. It also extends a preexisting relationship that dates back to 2013 with the very formation of the American Athletic Conference, and it is comprehensive in nature and takes advantage of Disney’s unmatched array of distribution outlets and platforms.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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