Nobody hit all the winning numbers in Saturday’s PowerBall drawing, meaning that the staggering sum of $750 million will roll over to next week.
But that doesn’t mean someone didn’t hit the jackpot.
According to the Sports Business Journal, the American Athletic Conference and ESPN have reached an agreement that will net the league a $1 billion windfall over the next dozen years. Split evenly, that comes to be about a $7 million annual payment to each of the AAC’s 12 members through the 2031-32 academic year for their broadcast and digital rights.
That kind of money will help pay a lot of training table meals, facility upgrades and other necessities. In the process, it will go a long way toward keeping ECU’s once cash-strapped athletic department in the black for the foreseeable future.
It’s the most significant financial development involving the Pirates perhaps since their decision to move up to Division I in 1976.
Think that’s an exaggeration?
Then consider that the new contract will virtually triple the amount of money AAC schools are receiving for their media rights under the current deal.
While it doesn’t come close to raising the conference to the level of the Power Five schools — no matter how much commissioner Mike Aresco tries to convince the world otherwise — the new pact does unequivocally establish it as the best of the rest.
By contrast, the Mountain West Conference pays out only about $1 million to its members. The Mid-American Conference pays out only about $830,000 per school while Conference USA and the Sun Belt check in at only about a half-million annually.
In addition to the money, the AAC’s new deal will also increase the amount of exposure the league will get, including network broadcast coverage for some football games on ABC with other football games and basketball games running on one of ESPN’s many cable platforms. Other sports will be available on ESPN-plus, a subscription digital service, with more than 1,000 AAC events scheduled to be broadcast by the third year of the deal.
That could end up paying even greater dividends in the areas of recruiting, fundraising and brand recognition.
The Sports Business Journal report also indicated that CBS Sports will retain rights to some Navy football games and will negotiate an agreement for a package of AAC basketball games.
Although ECU still has a long way to go before being able to compete on even terms with its rivals in its two most visible and money generating sports — football and men’s basketball — this new television deal will at least start the process of evening the playing field when it comes to resources.
More money coming in means more money to hire and keep better assistant coaches in football and perhaps, even an indoor practice facility. It means a greater recruiting budget for Joe Dooley and his staff to go out and surround All-AAC freshman basketball star Jayden Gardner with more talent. It means going ahead with plans for further improvements to Clark-LeClair Stadium so coach Cliff Godwin’s team can make an even stronger push for a College World Series appearance.
It also means stability for a conference whose success leaves it vulnerable to poaching by other leagues — especially the Big 12, which has long been rumored to be eying AAC members Cincinnati, Memphis and Houston.
It has yet to be announced whether the new contract will require member schools to sign a grant of rights, a document that makes it all but impossible for anyone to leave for the length of the contract. But even if it doesn’t the new TV deal gives ECU and its conference cousins seven million reasons a year to stay right where they are.
Big-time college athletics has turned into an arms race centered around super sized coaching contracts, modern facilities and high-tech marketing campaigns. It’s a phenomenon that takes increasingly larger amounts of cash to fund and shows no signs of slowing down.
While the money generated by the AAC’s reported new television deal still doesn’t match that of the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and even the ACC, for schools such as ECU it sure makes it seem as if they’ve hit the jackpot.