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Creativity Is The Key For The ACC To Close The Gap With The Big Ten And SEC

There are paths forward, but the league needs fresh eyes.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Practice Day - Greensboro
GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 16: A detail view a Wilson basketball as it sits beside the ACC logo on the court is seen during a practice session ahead of the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Were we the only ones who got a bit queasy about the so-called “Magnificent Seven” and their recent push to reform the ACC’s revenue model?

Reform is apparently going to happen as the league continues to chase the Big Ten and the SEC, which are far ahead of the ACC and everyone else when it comes to revenue.

The Big Ten pulled in $845.6 million while the SEC raked in $802 million. The ACC came in third at $617 million.

The new model will provide more revenue to teams that perform better in the post-season in football and basketball.

That probably won’t hurt Duke all that much, relatively speaking. The Blue Devils make a ton of money in basketball and over the last decade has done better in football than it has in decades.

According to David Bradley, who heads up Duke Basketball’s brilliant social media department, here are the “ACC Top 7 — Brand Value Generated by TV/Social Media - Last 2 Years (FB/MBB combined)”

  1. UNC: $582.9M
  2. Clemson: $432.6M
  3. Duke: $427.4M
  4. Miami: $381.6M
  5. FSU: $347.2M
  6. Pitt: $181.9M
  7. NC State: $145.4M

The ACC clearly would like to generate significantly more revenue and we’d like to repeat an idea we have advanced several times in different ways over the years: a revival of the Dixie Classic, but with a modern approach, including a new name.

In the original event, there were three rounds. The Big Four - Duke, UNC, NC State and Wake Forest - would each play a team from outside the ACC. Then there were winners and losers brackets and four games a day until the last day.

We’d suggest something like that but with a slightly bigger field. Take in two more ACC teams, say Virginia and Miami, and scale it up.

Alternatively, if it’s all about a Darwinian cash grab, just keep it to the Big Four and invited guests. Duke, UNC, NC State and Wake Forest could invite, say, Gonzaga, Houston, Creighton and Florida Atlantic. You could also probably get Michigan State on a regular basis since Tom Izzo prefers a masochistic schedule.

But what would that be worth? You could hold it in the PNC in Raleigh or the Greensboro Coliseum, it would almost certainly sell out and the TV rights should be significant, if only because Duke and UNC are involved and a possible third (or fourth or, conceivably fifth if they played in the ACC and NCAA tournaments) meeting would probably pull in significant income.

Or, for that matter, Duke and UNC could just have a third game, one that wouldn’t count in the conference standings, but which would still generate intense interest.

And they could just keep that money for themselves.

Obviously catching the Big Ten or the SEC won’t be easy at this point. Football is driving the train and those conferences have major advantages going forward.

However, the ACC could still be the more innovative league. We’d like to see the conference try a few different things. For one, leverage the technology resources that the ACC has in NC State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech and see what it could do with tech. Apple is set to announce its new mixed reality AR/VR headset in June and we hope the ACC has moved heaven and earth and called Fuqua grads Tim Cook and Eddie Cue to get the league on that damn headset.

Lots of viewers immediately?

Well, no. A head start on where technology is heading? Well, yes, and what’s that worth? It’s incalculable.

Early reports suggest 8K lenses and the “screen” will be quite large. Leave aside superb video quality and imagine what you could do with the AR even today, much less in five years. Imagine if you could access the analytics data. Shoot, just imagine what you could do if you ultimately incorporated all of that into a video game on a headset. Then imagine that NIL allows you to compensate the players.

Not only would you have the tech asset, but you’d also a self-sustaining NIL stream and one that could play the players not just today but for decades.

Revenue is obviously the key but if you build something that will provide income indefinitely you will draw the biggest asset of all: talent.

Is anyone at ACC HQ looking at using AI to create apps, programs or podcasts? If not, why not?

Second, we’d love it if the league set up a recruiting service for all member schools. By that we mean a broadly analytical service that gives as much information and data to member schools as possible. Obviously every school does that already, but a full-time department for basketball and football? It wouldn’t interfere with what any one school is doing but would give more information to everyone. Who couldn’t use that?

And of course, the ACC and member schools should look at AI and recruiting. You could apply it in fascinating ways. Conceivably you could set up a service where you don’t just comb YouTube, but also have coaches and athletes send in stats and video, analyze it via AI and sort through vast amounts of data before even looking at the clips. You could even start to use wearable tech to measure things like stress and cardio performance. What would you do with 2-3 years of that sort of data from high school players?

You could do a crazy amount of analysis if people are just giving you the data you need. Just imagine, for instance, that you were aware of Steph Curry or Andrew Nemhard and were tracking their younger brothers Seth and Ryan from an early age. You could model all kinds of stuff via AI. It’s a bit out there, but we could even imagine a situation where AI incorporates DNA reports, obviously to identify potential stars but also to flag things like Marfan syndrome or potentially fatal heart issues.

It won’t happen today, but it’s not far away.

And third, while we’re very happy that the ACC Network is functional and successful, wouldn’t it be nice if it weren’t also a cure for insomnia?

Seriously! Just imagine what you could do with a lively studio presence.

Now imagine what you could do with that, a ton of data and a useful way to present it via things like Apple’s new headset.

The key words for the ACC Network should be be fun, creative and everywhere possible. You have the dour and unlikeable chauvinist Paul Finebaum? Welcome to him. The ACC should have better options. We’re not saying hire Charles Barkley, but who would you rather watch, Barkley or the lemon sucking Finebaum?

The point is, the world is changing.

The ACC can’t win on revenue, at least not in the short term, but it can win on innovation and creativity. The goals should be a) new ways to generate income, b) new ways to attract talent and c) new ways to present ACC sports.

The conference should be trying to get where the people are going to be, not just the dying market of cable TV.