by Allen Kellogg
Providence, Rhode Island
May 7, 2017
The American Athletic conference today attempted to reach an agreement with ESPN that would require the sports network to designate the AAC as a power conference.
College football is currently broken into a strict hierarchy based on financial resources and fan support. The Power Five or P5 consists of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 10, the Big 12, the Pac 12, and the South Eastern Conference. These conferences all have massive media deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars and represent the largest and most popular schools in the nation. The Group of Five, or G5, consists of all the smaller conferences like the AAC, Mountain West or the Sun Belt which are made up of smaller schools. Their media deals are a fraction of those held by the P5 and these schools are often overlooked by the playoff committee, ranking systems, and the bowl committees.
The AAC believe that it should be considered one of the power conference and has used the term Power Six to describe itself. During the bowl season each AAC team wore a P6 decal on their helmets. The AAC went 2-5 in bowl games and received widespread jeers for the decal and the conference performance. Because of this failure and the perceived lack of respect from outside the conference, the AAC has come up with a multifaceted plan to improve the conference perception and become a power conference.
Conference representatives reached out to ESPN and made the struggling network an offer to pay for ESPN to promote the conference as a power conference. The deal has yet to be finalized, but sources indicate that the AAC will be paying up to 120M per year for ESPN to promote them. The current AAC media deal is worth $126M over seven years or about $18M a year. Sources inside the conference head office say ESPN’s current payout to the conference will be considered as part of the new deal reducing the overall payment to ESPN to $102M per year.
Experts are unsure how the conference will be able to pony up that much cash, but conference commissioner, Mike Aresco said the AAC is debating several revenue generating strategies.
“Number one, is we are selling the University of Connecticut to a foreign buyer for roughly $300 million. This will provide the conference with the money we need to proceed with our partnership with ESPN. Liberty University will be taking UConn’s place and has promised to pay us $30 million a year for the next 20 years, Aresco said.
Aresco also said the schools in the AAC are looking at selling the naming rights of the universities and their football teams. For example, Temple University announced they will become Comcast University and their team will be renamed the Blue Rays.
In recent years the AAC has often been the place where P5 schools go to find an new head coach for their team and as a result the AAC struggles to remain consistent when it comes to coaching. For example, three AAC coaches, Tom Herman(Houston), Matt Ruhle(Temple), and Willie Taggart (USF) all left their AAC schools before bowl season started for new jobs in the power five. The conference is debating mandating a posting fee similar to what the Japanese Baseball league has with the MLB. P5 clubs will be required to pay an 8 figure sum to the conference just for the opportunity to try and negotiate with an AAC team’s coach. The money is non-refundable and does not count towards any buyout the coach may have in his contract.
Revenue generation is just one facet of the AAC plan. Filling their stadiums is critical for the national image. Aresco said the conference will take a page out of North Korea’s playbook and hire thousands of actors to play the role of school fans at home games. North Korea was reputed to have hired tens of thousands of Chinese actors to act as their fans during the 2008 World Cup in South Africa because North Korea refused to allow their own citizens to leave the country.
Aresco said all these changes may not improve the product on the field, but what matters is the money generated by the conference.
“The AAC is pioneering new ways for colleges to profit from their student athletes,” Aresco said. “At the end of the day being good at football has nothing to do with being a power conference. Look at the Big 12. Money is power.”