Is the American Athletic Conference Winning the Perception Battle?

The title alone points to the problem. When this conference was announced, you couldn’t find a sports writer or TV analyst anywhere that gave it a fighting chance. The marquee names up and left the conference, and, perhaps worst of all, so did a brand.

It’s not an easy world to start a new conference, when so many casual fans identify with only what they’re used to. Still, the American Athletic Conference had a first year for the ages.

USF

In both football and men’s basketball, Louisville was the clear frontrunner, coming off Sugar Bowl and National Championship wins. How wonderful it is for Mike Aresco and the American that UCF knocked off a legitimate opponent in Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and UConn went on to win the national championship in hoops (men’s and women’s no less).

There are still harsh realities to face. In the new playoff era, the American Athletic Conference splits about $86 million with the Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mountain West and MAC. Sounds like decent money, right? Unless you’re comparing it to the $90 million that each of the “power” five conferences receive. Then you compare media deals… oh boy. Quick math update: The American teams each receive about $2 million in media revenue with their current ESPN/CBS deal. Add another $1.5 million from the playoff fund, and that’s $3.5 million per team in the American.

For comparison’s sake, the average ACC team will rake in about $6.5 million from the playoff fund and about $20 million from their media deal. ACC team $26.5 million, American team $3.5 million. Quite the difference.

But as it is, there’s a competitive framework in place to keep the league moving forward, and its brand and money can only increase.

Image Credit: Lost Letterman

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5 thoughts on “Is the American Athletic Conference Winning the Perception Battle?

  1. The financial comparisons do make the American Athletic Conference future look somewhat bleak, but there are many things to consider that temper that view. First, current TV money is not static. Mike Aresco has spoken before about the AAC’s potential ability to renegotiate with its TV partners (ESPN & CBS), and that was long before UCF and UConn had unexpectedly great seasons and post-season success in football and basketball, respectively.

    Less sexy — but even more important overall — is the fact there were plenty of high-quality or highly entertaining football games (think Houston vs. UCF or UCF vs. Louisville in football, or, in basketball, any games involving UConn, Cincy, Memphis, SMU or Louisville) that were on networks that people actually have and successfully introduced the conference as having at least good teams at the top.

    The AAC got underpaid for TV rights, but another way of looking at it is, in doing so, its members were effectively put in a situation where money that might have come their way in the form of cash was invested in being on TV, particularly ESPN. Being as that many of the current AAC teams were previously in C-USA (including Cincinnati and USF), they have experience operating on budgets with very little TV money and the current financial package is much better than C-USA stuff. Plus, the exposure is much greater.

  2. Good points. It’s a lucky thing the conference had such great seasons in its first year – that should certainly help come renegotiation time. The athletic brands in the conference increased dramatically (especially UCF).

    I can’t wait to see what kind of exposure the American really gets going forward. Hopefully there are games on ESPN and ABC regularly, and not just ESPNwatch and ESPN 2. There’s also no question the games this past year were some of the most entertaining of any of the leagues – it’s just a matter of people wanting to see them. I sure do 🙂

    Thanks for the comment, Jamie!

  3. People will want to watch. The proof is in the pudding and the pudding was thick the first year out. The TV markets alone will be worth dollars. The question is whether this will be an incubator league for more defections. I know that UCF and the B12 are in ongoing talks as we build our brand. All we need is exposure. The University and it’s football speaks for itself.

    • Hopefully not an incubator league. My alma mater’s name (Cincinnati) gets tossed around in a lot of “what if” scenarios regarding expansion. I think most conferences put a bit too much emphasis on tradition, which hopefully could keep the teams in the American. Luckily enough, UCF and Cincinnati are both short on the tradition scale, despite being strong football programs today. Thanks for the comments!

      • Hey Chad,

        Cincy, USF and BYU are on the short list for the B12. I believe BYU doesn’t want to move on the Sunday issue etc. From what I understand they are happy where they are and are not worried about championships. They still want to be able to schedule p5 teams and a good bowl. I think cincy’s main issue for the b12 will be the stadium restrictions. The remodel is nice but there is not enough land or seating at Nippert. I think they eventually head to the ACC. My dad’s side of the family is all from Cincy so I feel your pain. It’s sad we won’t be scheduled until the 2015 season

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