The ACC Network is here! That’s cool, I guess. Other conferences have one so it’s not a terrible idea to have one too, plus it’s more money which is always nice. In all seriousness, the finally-public commitment to an actual ACC Network is the exclamation point on an impressive campaign to not only survive conference realignment, but to arguably come out on top as the era’s big winner. But what now? How will ESPN fill all of this air-time now that they’ve worked their way into TV sets and computers from Coral Gables to upstate New York … with kind of a side trip to Indiana by way of Pennsylvania? Hopefully not like this:
Finding the ACC’s Finebaum
The most obvious mistake that ESPN will make will be trying to find the ACC version of Paul Finebaum, a topic that’s already being widely discussed across national media. Finebaum works for the SEC like peanut butter works for banana sandwiches. By that, I mean anyone in SEC country is salivating at that reference while everyone else is repulsed and confused. Yes, there are plenty of personalities with ACC ties who can sit in front of a camera and copy Finebaum’s antics, but it will be completely lost on the audience because ACC fans have no interest in a spokesperson.
Recommendation: Scott Van Pelt. Just kidding, SVP. But if ESPN needs to have a true anchor for the ACC Network, they should look to someone from the comedy world who is engaging and digestible to everyone. More Fallon than Finebaum. But, please, not Fallon.
One Size Fits All Programming
What makes the ACC culture so great is that every single fanbase is different. On the flip side, that’s an incredibly daunting challenge for a network needing to fill its schedule with programming. Imagine a single 24-hour political network with Bill O’Reilly from 7 to 8PM, followed by Bill Maher from 8 to 9. That’s what an ACC Network will be like if ESPN goes the traditional route with programming.
Recommendation: Leverage the online platform and the infrastructure at the member schools to offer team-specific, streaming studio programming with a rotation on the cable/satellite network when not airing sporting events.
One Way Communication
The community of ACC fans is an absolute goldmine of commentary, analysis, storytelling, and jokes. ESPN will beef up their lineup of talent and will produce shows where professional pundits will yell at each other about the hot takes of the day. They’ll throw power rankings and highlights and “OMG did you see this on Facebook” moments at viewers, and it will be lame and awful.
Recommendation: Tap into social media personalities within the ACC community and break through the restraints of the TV announcer to TV viewer relationship to drive thoughtful and entertaining two-way dialogue.
If the ACC Network held a 16-minute preview show, the network would receive hate mail from the 14 fanbases who only got one minute of coverage as opposed to the 15th school’s two minutes. Any talk of one team’s success will be taken as a sign of disrespect for the accomplishments of their rivals. And heaven forbid any amount of criticism ever makes its way into the discussion, you freaking (insert team here) haters. It will be interesting to see how ESPN handles this conference dynamic because it’s so different than what they have with the SEC right now. The tendency will either be to downplay rivalries or to artificially stoke them with forced point/counterpoint discussions and the like.
Recommendation: Celebrate rivalries. Re-air games. Create documentaries. ACC fans are angsty as hell about the attention their rivals get in the present or future, but no one appreciates history like ACC fans.