Syracuse University shocked college athletics when the school announced the hiring of ESPN executive vice president for programming and production John Wildhack would be the school’s next athletic director on Wednesday (July 6). The move came fifty-seven days after the previous AD, Mark Coyle, suddenly left SU for the same job at the University of Minnesota.
While the move came as a surprise, seeing as Wildhack has very little experience inside a college’s athletic department, the current state of Syracuse and the ACC makes Wildhack a perfect fit in Central New York. This is the case for several reasons: the ACC Network, the future of the ACC as a whole, and SU’s broadcasting history. Let’s look at each of those in more detail:
The SEC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 all have legitimate networks with their own conference-related programming 24/7/365. The ACC has a graphic with “ACC Network” spelled out that flashes on screen during ACC games on various channels and mic flags. Wildhack going to Syracuse could change that.
ESPN already has a great working relationship with the Atlantic Coast Conference. Back in 2010, the conference and sports network reached a massive deal for football and basketball broadcasts.
The deal is reportedly worth $1.86 billion over 12 years, giving ESPN exclusive rights to conference football and men’s basketball games and so much more. ESPN’s deal with the ACC is through 2026-2027 and doesn’t stop at football and basketball.
“ESPN has been televising ACC content since 1979 and has exclusive rights to every conference-controlled football and men’s basketball game, plus women’s basketball and Olympic sports matchups, and all ACC championship events.”
So what does this mean for a future ACC network? Well, the ACC and ESPN are already locked in for a deal for another decade, giving them plenty of negotiating time. But the clock is ticking.
Just over a year ago, Sports Business Daily reported via CBS Sports the ACC brought in $302.3 million dollars in revenue as recently as 2013-2014. That’s a big chunk of change, but it was still the fourth-most among the Power 5 conferences behind the Pac-12, Big Ten, and SEC. While it is a lot of money, the ACC would obviously prefer to be higher up on the list than fourth.
As the soon-to-be former Executive VP of Programming and Production, Wildhack has played a major role in the ACC on ESPN and the contract negotiations the two parties have had. However, as we reported back in October 2015, ESPN recently asked to have the negotiations and the launch delayed.
This was partially because ESPN was reportedly hesitant to agree to a deal since other college networks have lost money in the first couple years. This is where Wildhack could play a big factor.
Now that Wildhack will be in the ACC’s inner circle in terms of what the conference thinks, he can provide the other athletic directors and commissioner John Swofford with insight into ESPN’s thinking. Meaning as a former ESPN exec, Wildhack can help bridge the gap between the two parties, seeing as he knows exactly what each side wants/is thinking.
Additionally, this comes at a perfect time because we reported on a possible resolution even more recently than October. In May, reports began to swirl the network and conference could be closer to a deal than ever before.
“We have continued to have very significant discussions continuing to take place,” Swofford said. “And we spent a significant amount of time at this meeting in regards to that. … There’s not a whole lot we can say or will say until we reach a definite point.”
If that’s the case, Syracuse hiring Wildhack less than two months after Swofford’s statement above could be big for the negotiations.
Future of the ACC
This side of the move ties in largely with the ACC Network. With Wildhack, Syracuse is getting a titan in the sports media industry who understands where the future of sports media and broadcasting is headed. That could be big for Syracuse and the ACC specifically.
Right now, the ACC has very successful teams across the conference for the majority of its sports.
In football, Clemson made it to the College Football Championship game this year. In basketball, half of the Elite Eight and Final Four teams in the Men’s 2016 NCAA tournament were ACC schools. In baseball, the ACC set a conference record and tied the all-time mark with 10 schools making the field of 64. On top of that, six of the 10 hosted regionals.
Another sport to which ESPN has the majority of rights and the ACC dominates is lacrosse. The five ACC men’s lacrosse schools (Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Syracuse, and Notre Dame) are annually five of the best programs in the country. All five schools made the 2016 tournament, which features just 20 teams total.
Finally, in the 2016 Capitol One Cup Final Rankings, the ACC placed three schools in the Men’s and Women’s top 10.
With all that in mind, the ACC is on an upwards trajectory in terms of the quality of its sports teams and competition, but it still has a little bit more to go to.
In football, there’s a clear distinction between the top schools in the conference, such as Clemson and Florida State, and the bottom schools like Syracuse and Boston College. The same applies to basketball with the gap between a BC and North Carolina. With Wildhack hopefully helping the ACC create an official network with ESPN, that gap could begin to close as schools bring in more money.
Furthermore, the ACC is extremely strong across all of its sports right now, but with an official ACC Network, it could become even stronger.
Syracuse’s broadcasting history
It’s no secret that Syracuse has one of, if not the best, broadcasting program in the country, although I’m biased as a recent grad. Wildhack is one of many accomplished alumni to hold high-profile on or off-air positions after going to Syracuse. Here’s a sampling:
On-Air: Bob Costas, Mike Tirico, Marv Albert, Dick Stockton, Sean McDonough, Bill Roth, Ian Eagle, Dave Pasch, Beth Mowins, Scott Hanson, Anish Shroff, and many more.
Off-Air: Wildhack, Howard Deneroff (WestwoodOne), Chris Licht (CBS), Rob Light (CAA), Brendan Lee (NFL), Brian Frons (ABC), and many more.
The point is, Wildhack is one of many high-profile graduates who have helped make Syracuse what it is today and continue to help the school’s image improve. But what does this do for the school bringing one of them back?
Well, Syracuse already does a great job of keeping its alumni involved and bringing them back to campus. With Wildhack in the fold heading the athletic department, that could increase. Additionally, his connections could help SU’s image expand across multiple networks and platforms.
This part of the story also ties back to the ACC’s goal of creating an official ACC Network. Wildhack obviously has the inside track with ESPN after spending over three decades there, but with SU’s broadcasting history, Wildhack and Syracuse together gives them even more connections to help get an ACC Network started with any potential partner.
This will be huge news in Bristol as Wildhack is the top content exec at ESPN below Skipper. https://t.co/fTfYoxajJB
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) July 6, 2016
At the end of the day, Wildhack should be a great Athletic Director at Syracuse. Yes he doesn’t have as much experience in terms of managing a large staff of coaches and dealing with budgeting for team travel for example, but he does have experience where it matters in 2016.
On top of that, a ton of people in the sports broadcasting and media industry, both at ESPN and not, seem to love the move.
Sad that John Wildhack is leaving us @espn, super excited he's going to my alma mater @Cuse as AD. He'll be great. https://t.co/fepWciR6o6
— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) July 6, 2016
Every time I saw Wildhack in Bristol, he wanted to talk 'Cuse hoops. Diehard Syracuse guy.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) July 6, 2016
Exciting hire here. TV producer and executive with incredible background, credentials, connections. Welcome back. https://t.co/V5EULU7Gfm
— Matt Park (@MattPark1) July 6, 2016
WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! #CUSE https://t.co/MMNzDuSJ1U
— Adam Schein (@AdamSchein) July 6, 2016
Can't hurt lax that John Wildhack, who fully grasps TV, is the new AD at @SyracuseU and is a part of the ACC.Now just push the season back
— Eamon McAnaney (@EamonMcAnaney) July 6, 2016
If we’ve learned anything in the 21st Century, it’s that sports broadcasting rights and media deals are extremely lucrative and can help push a college athletic conference to the next level. With Wildhack joining Syracuse, the ACC is closer than ever before to making a broadcasting related move that could make it the most profitable of the Power 5 conferences.