Can AAC’s next TV contract put them at Power Conference level?

The Orlando Sentinel released the American Athletic Conference’s 2016-2017 total revenue, and it shows a clear divide between the Group of 5 and the Power 5.

This is how the Power 5 conferences stacked up in total revenue, along with the AAC:

  • SEC: $650 million
  • Big Ten: $531 million
  • Pac-12: $509 million
  • ACC: $418 million
  • Big 12: $371 million
  • AAC: $74.47 million

Now, this is total revenue for the conference, so not all teams will earn the same amount.

Total revenue includes postseason money, television deals, etc.  The biggest portion, for most conferences, is the television deal.

For sake of argument, let’s take a look at the average revenue each team in each conference brought in in the 2016-17 fiscal year:

  • SEC: 14 teams / $46.43M
  • Big Ten: 14 teams / $37.93M
  • Pac-12: 12 teams / $42.42M
  • ACC: 14 teams / $29.86M
  • Big 12: 10 teams / $37.1M
  • AAC: 12 teams / $6.2M

The lowest per school average, of the Power 5 schools, is the ACC at an average of $29.86M.

The AAC is at $6.2M per school, or $23.66M less than the lowest Power 5 school.

How did the American Athletic Conference get to this point?

For starters, the league technically was built in 2013, after the Big East dissolved and turned into a basketball-only conference.  At that time, there was no stability in the conference, as nobody knew exactly which teams would be sticking around, and which might be plucked for the Power 5 conferences.

So, in 2013, the league inked a 7-year, $126 million TV contract, which expires at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Louisville eventually moved to the ACC, and Rutgers was invited to the Big 10 soon after, which left these teams:

  • UCF
  • Cincinnati
  • Houston
  • SMU
  • Connecticut
  • USF
  • Memphis
  • Temple

As of this last season, the conference now has 12 teams, with two 6-team divisions, and a conference championship game, which, last year, drew nearly as many viewers as the PAC 12 Championship game.

These are the conference teams leading into the 2018 football / basketball seasons:

  • UCF
  • Memphis
  • USF
  • Houston
  • Temple
  • SMU
  • Navy
  • Tulane
  • Cincinnati
  • Connecticut
  • Tulsa
  • East Carolina

Big time markets and a stable, on-the-rise conference (including the only team in the country to go undefeated in FBS last season, UCF), should help the league gather more money on this next TV deal.

The Big 10 received a $2.64 billion dollar TV contract in 2016 that was good for 6 years.  That means $440M from television every season, before any other revenue comes in.

In other recent deals, ESPN just paid $1.5 billion – over 5 years – for UFC rights, and FOX paid $1 billion – over 5 years – for WWE’s “Smackdown,” a once-a-week show that averages just south of 3 million viewers per broadcast.

So if the AAC received $126 million in 2013, the idea is that they should get significantly more this time around.

Last season, the AAC began promoting itself as a “Power 6” conference, pushing for a seat at the big boys’ table, and while most people want to point at scoreboards, etc, the only real numbers that matter are viewers.

In 2017, the conference had multiple big-time weekends.  The Army / Navy game drew 8.42M viewers in the last regular season game of the year, which was good for the 7th most watched. Memphis / UCF in the AAC Championship game, in Week 14, drew 3.385M viewers, which was good for 6th most watched of the week, just behind USC / Stanford at 3.657M.

Week 13 saw USF / UCF draw 4.644M viewers, good for 4th most watched that week, ahead of South Carolina / Clemson (4.032M), Georgia / Georgia Tech (2.766M), Washington St / Washington (2.39M), etc.

The numbers at the bottom of the conference are comparable to the numbers at the bottom of the other conferences, so there’s no major split there.

The conference is high-flying, most teams have interesting uniform combinations, and there are storylines everywhere.

So how much should they expect to receive?

There’s no telling.

I would imagine ESPN will want to get involved again, so they can put some of the games on ESPN+, their new streaming-only platform, because they need content there to convince people to subscribe.  If Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, etc, want to get into upper level college football (there were multiple MWC games streamed exclusively on facebook last year), then the numbers could get even more interesting.

The more interesting question is: How much does the AAC need to bring in to even the playing field against Power 5 conferences?

They will never hit the stratosphere of the SEC and the Big 10.  Those brands are untouchable… but what about the PAC 12, Big 12, and ACC?  Could the AAC reach those levels?

Not with this contract.  But eventually, possibly.

The AAC needs to hope for at least what they got in their 2013 contract… only they need it every year.

Yes, they need around $120M per season from their television contract.  That would net $10M, for each school, from television, before other revenues are added.

The average Power 5 school brings in over $38M per season in revenue.  This would get AAC schools to around $15-20M per season, rather than the $6M they brought in last season.

While that may not look like much, in comparison to the Power 5 money, that is a significant difference.  It’s the difference in being able to hire a good basketball coach AND a good football coach.  It’s the difference in being able to update an entire campus.

There’s a lot at stake with this television deal, and it appears Mike Aresco, the commissioner of the AAC, is prepared to capitalize on the timing of this opportunity.


About Gary Segars 1209 Articles
Gary began his first website in 1998 as a sophomore in high school, writing reviews of cds and live shows in the Memphis area. He became editor of his college newspaper, then moved towards a career in music.He started the infamous blog during the 2006 football season, and was lucky enough to get into blogging just before the coaching search that landed Nick Saban at Alabama. The month and a half long coaching search netted his site, which was known for tracking airplanes, over 1 million hits in less than 90 days. The website introduced Gary to tons of new friends, including Nico and Todd, who had just started the site diving into more than just Alabama news, Gary started up his first installment of in 2012. After keeping the site quiet for a while, it was started back up in April 2016. Gary then joined forces with high school friend Chris Giannini and began a podcast during the 2016 football season that runs at least 2 times a week, focusing on college football, NFL football, and sports wagering, and diving into other sports and pop-culture topics.E-mail: Twitter: @GaryWCE