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The ACC Network: What Impact Will It Have?

Everything is up for grabs, even more so than it has been in the recent past.

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Washington Wizards v Miami Heat
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 11: Marcin Gortat #13, Bradley Beal #3, and John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards look at a laptop during a preseason game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on October 11, 2017 in Miami, Florida. 
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The N&O has a good article up on the nascent ACC network and what it could mean to the league.

The ACC is behind the other Power Five conferences in revenue at this point and with the whole business rotating around the sun that is football, it is at a disadvantage with the Big 10, SEC and Big 12 and arguably the PAC-12 as well.

But perhaps not permanently.

The ACC has one huge advantage and that’s real estate. The East Coast has the most people and the ACC is the dominant presence in collegiate sports on the East Coast.

The Big Ten pioneered the whole idea of a conference network and did so brilliantly, but you could certainly argue that it was a move born of weakness.

The Rust Belt states are contracting population wise with most of the new residents being immigrants. We looked this up a few years ago just out of curiosity and it was really striking. There’s also no guarantee that those newcomers will be football fans and we would assume a fair number prefer soccer and will do so for the foreseeable future.

Secondly, as the Big Ten states are losing population their recruiting bases are hurting. Consider Flynt and Detroit. Those towns produced tremendous basketball players for decades. Lately? Not so much. Understandably, given the problems those cities have had, people have left.

The Big Ten’s push for football satellite camps looks different in this light, doesn’t it?

And third, football in general has a cloudy future. The whole concussion/ chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) issue has made a lot of people reconsider the game in general and made a lot of parents tell their kids “no football” - including Bo Jackson.

Between far less kids playing and the general awareness of the serious health risks of the game, it’s hard to see the NFL (or college football) going up indefinitely.

And in terms of the recruiting bases, the East Coast just keeps getting bigger. Take what’s happening, or about to happen, in the Research Triangle area in North Carolina.

The area has grown dramatically over the last several decades but that’s about to go into orbit. Apple is reported to be on the verge of announcing a major center here. Raleigh has made the finalist’s cut for Amazon’s HQ2 and the company has gone so far as to identify a parcel of land it would like to use if it comes here (it is on the edge of NC State’s Centennial Campus and borders the Dorothea Dix grounds that are to become a city park).

The Army is considering Raleigh for its Futures Command and that list is down to five.

That’s a lot. However, there may a great deal more than that on the way. If you haven’t been paying attention, it’s like a spring ready to pop loose around here.

The ACC is in a superb long-term position and not just in North Carolina. The network will obviously be a major deal but as we’ve said for some time, the conference needs to look beyond merely TV. Everything in media is in immense flux due to competitive pressure from Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. We saw clear evidence of this after a ruling in AT&T’s favor allowed the behemoth to acquire Time-Warner.

Immediately after that, Comcast challenged Disney’s all-stock offer for Fox with a $65 billion dollar cash offer.

The world is changing incredibly fast and it’s hard to keep up, much less understand it all.

And there’s a complete wild card on the horizon too, one which a lot of parents will have seen and dimly recognize, and that’s e-sports.

Kids are turning to YouTube to watch videos of gamers gaming and live competitions are drawing huge on-line audiences.

That’s more competition for traditional sports and one you can’t begin to prepare for because you can’t know where it’s going. VR? Immersive? Week-long events? Apple’s long-term strategy appears to be to dump the iPhone for wearables and the company is reportedly working on AR eyeglasses towards that end. What do you do when the TV is projected directly on to your lens? And enhanced? Who owns that? What can they do with it?

On some level, traditional sports will incorporate digital elements. They’ll have to to compete with the new stuff.

And it’s entirely possible that some big tech player will make a play for ESPN and adapt it accordingly.

The point is that the ACC network (and all the others) may simply be transitional. Or it could be that in 10-15 years the entire model (or models) are obsolete - and by that we mean television networks, college sports, professional sports, all of it - upended by things we only dimly connect today.

It would be very easy to get things wrong as the PAC-12 has with its network. Finding your way in a world that is constantly evolving in wild, unpredictable ways is daunting. But there are some things you can do.

At Duke, Dave Bradley has done an amazing job of using technology to change perceptions of Duke, largely by presenting Duke basketball players as themselves. The whole Duke hating thing is too big to kill off entirely, but humanizing the players via technology and social media was pretty brilliant.

We’d like to suggest something for Duke and anyone else who reads this: why not have college athletes, many of whom are just as enthusiastic gamers as everyone else their age, participate in a gaming tournament during some down time?

This would be smart in a number of ways: first, just exposure. Having guys like Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley game with fans would be a huge PR boon and in our opinion, they would often be at a disadvantage. There are tons of great gamers around who would love to beat guys like that.

Secondly, it would help to monitor where e-sports are going. Duke (or whoever) will learn immense amounts from those e-sports competitors.

Third, it would continue the work of humanizing players and removing distance between athletes and fans - indeed it would put them on equal footing.

Finally, let’s consider the value of what UNC has discovered from letting players play pickup basketball with fans.

Even though they get dunked on and have no chance to win, they love it. It’s a lifetime highlight. They’ll talk about it for years.

There’s no way to tell where all of this is going, but the best way to get insight is to ride the currents we can discern today.

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