Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
With college football just around the corner, ESPN is set to launch the long-awaited ACC Network on Thursday.
Why it matters: Conference networks have become enormous moneymakers this decade, so the launch of ACCN will help the ACC close the financial gap with leagues like the SEC and Big Ten, who have surged ahead.
ACCN will go live at 7pm ET with a two-hour edition of "All-ACC," the channel's flagship studio show. After that, the network will debut its documentary film on Duke basketball's 1982 recruiting class: "The Class That Saved Coach K."
- Next Thursday, No. 1 Clemson will host Georgia Tech as the network's first marquee live broadcast, and the Tigers will also be featured in a "Hard Knocks"-style show this season.
By the numbers (estimates per The Athletic):
- SEC Network: ~59 million subscribers; ~$230 million in annual revenue
- Big Ten Network: ~55 million subscribers, ~$160 million in annual revenue
- Pac-12 Network: ~19 million subscribers, ~$40 million in annual revenue (fully owns and operates its network; no media partner ... which isn't working out so well)
- ACC Network: TBD
The big picture: "Over a decade those numbers would mean more than $2.3 billion (after ESPN takes its half) in ... revenue for the SEC, more than $1.6 billion (after Fox takes its half) for the Big Ten, about $400 million for the Pac-12 ... and zero for the ACC (until now)," writes The Athletic's David Glenn (subscription).
- The Big 12 is now the only Power Five league without its own stand-alone conference network — though it's nearly all-in with ESPN.
The bottom line: Campuses are opening their on-site production facilities, cable companies are scrambling with last-minute negotiations and the ACC's new era is officially underway. Now we wait for the football.