Aug. 2, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
So Sept. 24 looks like a perfect day for that massive early-autumn Saturday cookout you’ve been talking about forever but for one small planning land mine right in the middle of it all.
Your brother — a North Carolina graduate — and his family will be in town. Neighbors can attend. Two childhood pals with whom you and your brother grew up before they went to Georgia Tech and UNC (like you and your brother, respectively) can bring families from Canton and Newnan.
Your son’s football game will end by 10:30 a.m. Your daughter’s softball team will be idle.
The key: UNC will play at Tech that day.
Is that clover, or a weed in the middle?
Given all the moving parts, a noon kickoff or 1:30 start would be all clover as the grill would fire up around 6 or so.
A 3:30 start would be a little of both. The cookout would have to begin a little late, at about 8.
Any kickoff later than that would mean one of two things: no cookout for anyone, or a cookout that wouldn’t include your brother, a neighbor and your spouse; they’re going to the Tech-UNC game no matter what. Neither out-of-town friend will attend in that situation, either, because it’ll be too late to get the kiddies home at a favorable hour.
Here’s why your stomach is churning: the schedule reads “Time TBA,” for UNC-Tech and it will stay that way until Sept. 12.
TV calls the shots.
And why’s that?
TV pays big bucks for the rights to announce most starting times 12 days before kickoff, or in some cases just six days ahead of the game. They do this to better choose which games to televise at what times, and on what channels.
“They paid for the flexibility,” said ACC associate commissioner of communications and football operations Michael Kelly. “Sometimes, they have a goal of bumping numbers on a certain station, like ESPN2.”
The 2011-`12 school year will be the first in the ACC’s 12-year, $1.86 billion contract with ABC/ESPN and its properties. It has been widely reported that this will push up the conference’s annual TV revenues from $37 million to $155 million to be split among 12 schools.
ABC/ESPN announced start times for the first three games in May. In Tech’s case that’s a 7:30 kickoff for the Thursday night, Sept. 1 season opener against Western Carolina; a 7 p.m. start Sept. 10 at Middle Tennessee State; and a 12:30 start for the Sept. 17 game against Kansas.
As the season wears on and it becomes more clear which teams are more likely to remain in contention, TV – a catch-all phrase here for those holding TV rights — has the ability to wait until 12 days before kickoff to announce times. ESPN, however, also has announced start times for Thursday night telecasts, including Tech’s game Nov. 10 against Virginia Tech (8 p.m.).
“They try to be somewhat fair in getting the first three weeks out [ahead of time],” Kelly said. “They think they can work with the results, but after that they roll the dice.”
Actually, the TV folks leave fans rolling dice.
Four times a year, ABC/ESPN – which will also carry ACC games on a variety of stations including ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3.com and more – has the right to not announce a start time on a game 12 days in advance but rather wait until the following Sunday, six days in advance of the game.
“Once you start getting into November, they’re pretty astute and they’ll confirm a lot about the conference race, calling to ask if so-and-so wins, can they clinch the next week?” Kelly said. “They’ll usually save them to the end of the year for games that might impact their viewership, for games that will be key to the conference championship race or national championship.”
The new TV contract relates to all ACC conference games, and all out-of-conference games played at ACC schools – ACC-controlled games.
There will be some notable changes in scheduling under the new deal.
Where before wise ACC fans could by mid-season look at results in a given week and guess at start times for upcoming games (marquee games to be played in prime time, etc.), there will now be less “slotting” like this and more of a wild-card approach.
Kelly said that’s because ABC/ESPN has TV rights of varying degrees with other leagues, and results around the country will be taken into account when picking times for upcoming games across several leagues. So, it’s possible that an ACC-controlled game could see its start time partially determined by what’s going on in the Big 10, or the Big 12, etc., or vice-versa.
On the upside, ACC fans should – so long as they have access to ABC and the ESPN channels — be better able to view their teams on TV when unable to attend in person.
“ESPNU is now in more than 75 million homes,” Kelly said. “[The TV situation is] miles better than where we were a few years ago. Any ACC fan can see any ACC-controlled game.”