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The American’s New TV Deal Is Out. Here’s What It Means for UCF.

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$6.94 million a year is a nice raise, for starters.

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UCF head coach Scott Frost holds up the American Athletic Conference Championship Trophy as his team celebrates winning the title Saturday, December 2, 2017. (Photo: Derek Warden)
UCF head coach Scott Frost holds up the American Athletic Conference Championship Trophy as his team celebrates winning the title Saturday, December 2, 2017.
Photo: Derek Warden

It’s finally here.

Michael Smith and John Ourand of Sports Business Journal are reporting The American Athletic Conference has unveiled its new TV deal with ESPN. You can read that here:

Here are the terms:

  • The contract lasts 12 years, from the 2020-21 academic year through 2031-32. The upcoming 2019-2020 academic year is still under the current contract.
  • The deal pays The American $83.3 million per year.
  • That’s about $6.94 million going to each school every year, up from roughly $2 million they’re receiving under the current contract.
  • There is no Grant of Rights.
  • More AAC football games will be on ABC, which will bring a LOT more eyeballs to the conference on the over-the-air broadcast network (see UCF’s game vs. Cincinnati for more on that).
  • Some AAC football and basketball, including all of the league’s Olympic sports, will be on ESPN’s new streaming platform, ESPN+.

The precise details are still unclear at the moment, as the conference has yet to release any terms yet.

But still, this deal is a big infusion of investment for the UCF Knights program and The American at large. But there are some big changes coming.

UCF is going to make $5 million more per year more from its media deal. That’s a big bump.

The new contract’s per-school payout of just under $7 million a year is a 250% bump from the roughly $2 million UCF and its conference mates currently get. Speculation ranged from $4-6 million before, so this is raise is even higher than those in the know expected.

Any way you slice it, going from $2 million per year to $7 million per year in one contract cycle is a massive bump. To be fair, this isn’t what a lot of UCF fans demanded, but market realities are what they are.

Speaking of market realities, here’s what the other conferences pay out per year, approximately (based on the most recent numbers I could find):

So The American’s $7 million per year is still around one-quarter of what the ACC schools get per year, and that’s with their own dedicated TV network still yet to come online.

However, UCF has proven its ability to drive eyeballs to the conference’s TV time slots, especially in the last few years.

So the more UCF continues its current run of success, the better for the American at large.

Get used to paying for more UCF sports on TV, but you’ll probably be paying less than now.

According to Smith and Ourand:

Football, along with men’s and women’s basketball, will remain on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, but the majority of basketball games and a significant number of the football games will go to ESPN+. Other live sports including baseball, softball and soccer also will air on ESPN+.

Right now, if UCF Football or Basketball is not on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPNews, and CBS Sports Network doesn’t pick it up, the event goes to ESPN3, which is included with your cable subscription. Sports other than football and men’s basketball are watchable on UCFKnights.tv, UCF’s in-house streaming service.

In the new deal, some football (likely a lot of Tier 3 or 4 games) and a fair share of basketball games will go to ESPN+ if they are not on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. Also, your Olympic sports (Soccer, Volleyball, Baseball, Softball, etc.) will all be going to ESPN+.

While this might be a bit annoying for football and basketball, it’s a huge boost for the Olympic sports, which will have a much bigger platform on ESPN+. It remains to be seen to what extent the schools will be responsible for production of the Olympic sports on ESPN+.

One other good thing is that ESPN+ costs $4.99 per month. UCFKnights.tv costs $7.99 per month. So UCF fans will get all UCF sports, plus ESPN’s additional programming (including originals, NHL, MLB, and plenty more), plus other AAC games and events for $3/month less than they would pay for getting just UCF’s Olympic sports.

There’s no grant of rights.

The idea of a grant of rights was floated a few months ago, as a possible carrot to dangle in front of the AAC’s schools to prevent them from moving out of the conference during the deal and get more money in the process. That went over like a turd in a punch bowl.

No grant of rights means UCF, and any other schools in the AAC, could leave the league during the deal for another, higher-paying conference if so invited, and not have to give up their media revenue shares.

However:

That grant of rights thing was never going to fly anyway, since the schools most likely to leave - UCF, South Florida, Memphis, Houston, and Cincinnati - comprise a voting bloc of greater than 25% of the league’s membership, and you need 75% to approve anything. So that clause is The American’s problem, not UCF’s.

We are still in need of more details, like exactly how many games in each sport will be on what networks and/or ESPN+, for example. Details will trickle out over time.

But this is undoubtedly a win for UCF, as it bumps revenue, puts more eyeballs on more UCF sports, and keeps UCF and The American on board with the largest revenue-driving force in college sports, ESPN.