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The ACC Football TV Contract Explained

Written by Derek Fleming

When the ACC signed a new television contract with ESPN in 2016, the deal ensured that games would be played on ESPN-owned channels, including ESPN+, through the 2035-36 season. The initial contract signed in 2013 would have provided television and streaming revenue through 2027 but was extended in 2016 when ESPN introduced the ACC Network. The ACC media rights deal results in roughly $400 million of revenue annually, with each of the 15 member schools receiving between $35 and $38 million per season. 

ACC TV deal designed to dissuade conference realignment

Although some have criticized the ACC for signing a “bad deal” with ESPN, the ACC brass was prescient in at least one way. In a move that anticipated the continuing realignment of major conferences along TV lines, with Texas and Oklahoma jumping ship to the SEC, and USC and UCLA making their way to the Big 10, the ACC’s long term TV deal seeks to lock in its current members.

The expansion of the contract in 2016 was specifically meant to dissuade member schools from considering moves to competing conferences. The 2013 contract did not include language to cover potential consequences schools would face for terminating the agreement early. The 2016 rewrite includes such language and provides significant financial consequences should a school elect to leave. Reports have estimated that an ACC team’s decision to leave the conference would result in $120 million of financial penalties, which is three times the TV revenue ACC teams receive each season under the current deal.

ACC on RSN games

One of the most confusing aspects of the ACC football TV contract are the “ACC on RSN” games, a slate of ACC basketball and football games that air on local regional sports networks every season. If you’re confused by the ACC on RSN schedule, see our guide, Why You Can’t Watch Your Favorite ACC Team Today.

ACC football channel hierarchy

Under the current TV deal, the ACC football channel hierarchy breaks down like this:

  • ABC and ESPN carry the biggest games.
  • ACC Network will air 40 football games, usually featuring games between unranked ACC teams.
  • The ACC on RSN package marches on, with regional sports networks up and down the eastern seaboard airing a slate of games.

The media rights deal that is in place will keep the ACC on ESPN longer than most other conferences, but ensures a base line of funding for each of the 15 member schools. In 2026, the NCAA is expected to expand the College Football Playoffs from the current four-team format to a 12-team format. The expansion will provide even larger profits for ACC schools. 

The ACC is introducing a new scheduling model in 2023 that will alter the conference match-ups. Each team will face three primary opponents every year and each of the 10 remaining schools twice during a four-year cycle with a home game and away game alternating pattern. The extensive media rights deal allows the ACC to set conference schedules well in advance. The conference currently has schedules in place for every conference match-up through the 2026 season. 

How to watch ACC football in 2023

The best options for live streaming ACC football games will be streaming services that carry ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and local regional sports networks for ACC on RSN matchups. In the table below, we list live TV streaming services that carry the requisite channels for watching ACC football.

DIRECTV STREAM – ChoiceFuboHulu + Live TVYouTube TVSling Orange
Bally Sports Southeast Bally Sports Southeast
YES Network YES Network

ACC schools occupy top TV markets

The current realignment of college football conferences has resulted in the ACC featuring five schools in the top-25 television markets in the U.S., second only to the Big 10 which features eight, but the conference continues to lag behind in terms of revenue from television and streaming contracts. 

The Big 10, considered the nation’s elite conference, signed a multi-year deal that goes into effect in 2023 and will generate an estimated $80-100 million to each of the 14 member schools. The deal is worth more than $1 billion annually and is a primary reason that UCLA and USC will be joining the conference in 2024. In contrast, the current media deal with the ACC is valued at only $240 million base. 

The ACC has a wide reach with campuses over the Eastern portion of the country and a fan-base that expands globally. The best way for fans to catch ACC football games is through streaming services provided by Hulu+ with ESPN+. This streaming package provides acces to the largest number of key matchups and rivalry games in the ACC and makes it simple to watch Notre Dame games at the same time. 

ACC Football Team Viewing Guides

ACC Football TV Contract FAQ

What is the ACC Network?

The ACC Network is an ESPN affiliate that provides online streaming access to more than 40 football games each season. The Network also provides coverage for more than 150 men’s and women’s basketball games and over 250 Olympic events. Access is included with Xfinity and other television providers.

How does the ACC TV deal impact Notre Dame?

Notre Dame plays in the ACC for basketball, but remains independent for football. Nonetheless, the Fighting Irish play 3 ACC teams on the gridiron each season in non-conference play.

The Fighting Irish have their own media rights deal through NBC. Notre Dame is currently looking for an expanded deal of their own which could generate as much as $75 million annually while not violating the terms of the 2016 ACC media deal with ESPN and FOX. Notre Dame briefly joined the full ACC deal in 2020 which led to higher-than-expected profits for the conference. The campus continues to remain independent in 2023. 

Notre Dame continues to have the option to keep the football program independent, but other sports fall within the ACC media rights deal. Should Notre Dame decide to end its independence, the school would be under contract with the ACC according to the current deal which is a move that they would be unlikely to take at the current payout for ACC schools.

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