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The new media deal for USF’s conference has ESPN Plus, and minuses

Some future USF sporting events will be available only via ESPN’s subscription streaming service
USF fans, shown here following the Bulls' 38-20 loss to Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl, may have mixed emotions about the new American Athletic Conference media rights deal, announced Wednesday. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
USF fans, shown here following the Bulls' 38-20 loss to Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl, may have mixed emotions about the new American Athletic Conference media rights deal, announced Wednesday. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Published Mar. 27, 2019
Updated Mar. 27, 2019

The American Athletic Conference on Wednesday formally announced its 12-year media rights extension with ESPN, starting in 2020. Financial details weren’t disclosed, but previous reports indicate its value at around $1 billion, which represents a modest windfall of sorts to AAC schools (including USF). Commissioner Mike Aresco and ESPN executive Burke Magnus spoke with reporters via conference call Wednesday, during which they addressed key parts of the agreement (while remaining vague on others). Here’s a look at the new deal:

ESPN Plus, the streaming subscription service, is a huge part of this agreement.

And for AAC fans, that arrives with positives and negatives. On the plus side, 1,250 AAC events (from revenue sports to Olympic sports) over the next two years alone will be featured on ESPN Plus alone, with those events being branded as the American Digital Network.

“It’s as though we have our own branded network on that platform,” Aresco said.

On the down side, Bulls fans almost certainly will have to subscribe to ESPN Plus to watch some USF football games. In the past, the non-marquee conference games could be seen on CBS Sports Network.

And that outcry you hear likely is emanating from New England, where UConn women’s hoops fans have been accustomed to watching every Huskies game on traditional TV for years. Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice-president of programming and scheduling, suggested some UConn games destined for live-streaming ultimately could be farmed out to TV (SNY, PBS, etc.).

The AAC will be more visible on ESPN.

ESPN Plus notwithstanding, the league will have more games on the network’s traditional TV platforms under this deal. Currently, a minimum 26 AAC games are broadcast annually on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. That minimum increases to 40 under the new agreement, with 20 of those guaranteed for ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

For men’s hoops, a minimum 65 regular season games per season will be shown on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, with at least 25 on ESPN or ESPN2. “It basically doubles in terms of the minimums” (for men’s basketball), Aresco said.

Thursday/Friday football games remain part of the package.

Did you really think that was going away?

The better teams will get shown more.

No conference school is guaranteed a certain number of games annually on a traditional ESPN platform.

“I think it will work in football and basketball generally the way it’s always worked,” Magnus said, “which is we tend to focus on teams that are relevant to the national championship picture and bowl picture on the primary networks.”

When pressed, Magnus said that philosophy doesn’t necessarily mean an upper-tier program (such as UCF football) will have 75 percent of its games on TV. “It won’t work that way, unfortunately,” he added. “There’s no predictive mechanism you can apply to how many or anything like that.”

There’s no opt-out clause.

Further, Aresco said such a lengthy deal provides security for the 6-year-old conference.

“And by the way, most of the deals among our peer conferences were long-term," he added. "There might be a few that were shorter, but most were longer-term. In our view, if you go out further and are more successful, we obviously can sit down with ESPN and you can talk about extending and re-doing some things down the road. The point is, it gives you a lot of flexibility, but it also gives you security.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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