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ACC Network: Cord Cutting Is The Short Term Problem. Long Term? It’s Bugha

If you know who that is you know where this is going.

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 Kyle Giersdorf
Kyle Giersdorf, aka Bugha, just won $3 million playing Fortnight
Photo by: Zach Pagano/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

We’ve enjoyed doing our YouTube Gold series. One of the more interesting if esoteric aspects of that has been seeing the older videos, including the ones that go back to Pilot Life days (okay kids: Pilot Life sponsored the ACC back in the day and all of your elders who watched then - all of them - know the Pilot Life Song. If you want to freak them out, watch this and sing it to them. Even money they’ll sing along. They might even tear up).

One of the things that’s really striking in the older game videos is the simplicity of the graphics. You’ll see the scores and that’s about it. A major innovation was when they started doing them in yellow instead of white. That was big progress.

The basketball was arguably better because the players spent longer in school and knew their craft better but the graphics were primitive.

Why do we mention this?

Because in the last couple of days we’ve seen several articles worrying about providers not picking up the ACC Network, aka ACCN (note to mothership: ACCNet sounds much cooler).

The N&O, and Art Chansky have all written about this lately.

We’ve been talking about it for a while here and also cord cutting and evolving technology.

As Chansky points out, the ACC has arrived late to the conference network party. The Big Ten, the SEC, the PAC-12 and even the University of Texas all have their own networks and people are indeed leaving cable platforms.

So is the whole enterprise doomed?

No. Nothing is risk free in life but even so, we’d avoid the doom and gloom. It can still work and the ACC has a major population advantage on the East Coast.

That said, clearly none of us know where all of this is going. Even as cord cutting accelerates, college sports are moving towards a more professional basis and we don't mean just paying the players, which may or may not happen.

Look at the facilities, the infrastructure, the equipment. It’s entirely possible that Clemson football has nicer facilities than the Charlotte Panthers. We’re not saying they do, just that they might. Of course, the Panthers have to actually pay their entertainers which means less to lavish on other parts of the business.

That said, clearly the model is changing and the ACC, as well as it can be now, is positioned for short term change. When the negotiations are done, the ACC will almost certainly be on the major cable carriers.

Even now though it is on non-cable providers like DirecTV, Hulu, Verizon and Playstation Vue. Notably it’s not on Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Apple’s upcoming service, but with Disney starting its own streaming service, and tons of money and entertainment expertise, it’s not hard to imagine them porting ESPN products like ACCN over at some point.

ESPN content is not free but it is exclusive live content as of now, and the other tech giants currently have little to put up against it.

So we think that, unlike the earlier conference networks, the ACCN has a cable exit plan baked in. Being late isn’t always bad as Apple has repeatedly proved. Sometimes it’s a chance to avoid mistakes like the PAC-12 disaster. It’s amazing that West Coast consumers will get ACC sports via DirecTV but not the PAC-12.

So we think the conference is way ahead of most rivals when it comes to transitioning off of cable, which is good.

However, over time tastes change. In the late ‘40s and ‘50s of the last century, popular sports included baseball, horse racing and boxing. Baseball really screwed itself to an extent by alienating fans but it’s also a 19th century game. It has real charm, but it plays at a rural pace and the bases, pardon the pun, are around major cities now. The World Series just isn’t what it used to be.

Boxing has really fallen off the radar - MMA seems much more popular now - and horse racing is marginal outside of its core audience.

Things change.

For college sports, we think the bigger concern, frankly, is E Sports. A lot of older people have no idea how big they are getting and of particular note, the audience is supremely young. Advertising dollars will follow, and may do so at the expense of live sports.

You may have skipped over the Kyle Giersdorf story - maybe even John Swofford did - but this should have caught your attention.

Giersdorf, aka Bugha, is 16 and on July 28th won $3 million dollars playing Fortnight.

Tiger Woods got about $2 million for the Masters and winning Wimbledon will get you a little under $3 million.

This is happening at the same time college and professional sports are noticing smaller crowds. We’re pretty sure there’s a correlation. It’s not that fans are staying home to watch competing events at exactly the same time. It’s that many younger fans simply prefer E Sports to live human competition and a basketball or football game doesn’t give them the thrill they want.

And when you factor in parking, stadium prices for food and drink and the premium you have to pay just to be able to buy a season ticket, whether that’s a seat license or joining a college booster club, well, you know, you can just buy a switch or a Playstation or soon, VR goggles and get your jones that way.

It’s at most a few hundred dollars for your own gear whenever you want vs. thousands to sit in a stadium at set times. What do you think young people not making a ton of money will choose?

And by the way, Jeff Bezos will be happy to sell you whatever gaming platform you’d like, and our bet is that Amazon is going to take a hard look at E Sports and realize that not only can they sell you the equipment to compete but can also provide the rack space for servers to host vast, international competitions. And once big money is behind it, E Sports will explode. It’s primed already. Get it?

Traditional sports face a challenge that is only going to grow. The ACC is very smart not to put all of its chips on cable TV but any entity that wishes to compete for market share is going to have to turn to technology, which brings us back to those primitive graphics from the earlier days of ACC basketball.

We’ve seen broadcasters adapt modern graphics. Football games have really great graphics embedded right on the field. Years ago, Fox did a brilliant thing by putting lights on hockey pucks so that on TV a slap shot became a streaking blue comet. That was incredibly cool and ahead of its time.

We don’t know exactly how this will work out, but in order to compete with E Sports, traditional sports - and by that we mean college and professional - will have to incorporate technology to a hitherto unimagined degree.

In other words, to compete with E Sports, traditional sports will have to emulate them.

Imagine a basketball game wrapped with flashy, informative graphics, pop-up analytics, Easter eggs and chat, all at the same time, and we think you’re heading in the right direction.

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