Here Are The TV/Money Numbers
Behind ACC Angst Of Clemson, FSU

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

In the 1980s, 1990s and even into the early 2000s, the Atlantic Coast Conference frequently was the wealthiest conference in college sports.

In most years, the annual shared-revenue checks (consisting largely of television money) the ACC delivered to its member schools were larger than those sent by any other league. At the time, the ACC often made as much money or more from men’s basketball as from football.

Over the last two decades especially, the rising popularity of college football, along with the consistently large TV (and now streaming) audiences many schools now generate in that sport, has led to stunning revenue growth for the top conferences, including the ACC.

For example, in 2021-22 (the most recent numbers available), the ACC made more money than at any time in its now 71-year existence. It generated approximately $617 million in total revenue, including more than $400 million in TV/streaming revenue, thanks mainly to ABC/ESPN. That relationship also includes the ACC Network, a channel announced in 2016 and created by ESPN in 2019 that finally achieved full distribution in December 2021.

The even more impressive 2021-22 revenue totals of the Big Ten ($845 million) and the Southeastern Conference ($802 million) reflect the modern relegation of the ACC and the Big 12 ($480 million) to second-tier status among the top conferences.

The other long-time member of the so-called Power Five, the Pac-12 ($581 million), recently saw six of its members announce their upcoming departures for the Big 12 and two more for the Big Ten, mainly because the Pac-12 both (1) whiffed on its attempt to create a successful Pac-12 Network (it launched in 2012 but never gained adequate distribution) and (2) repeatedly failed to negotiate an acceptable TV deal beyond 2024, when its current contracts will expire.

Clearly, TV money — and football TV money, in particular — has never been more important.

NCAA officials now estimate that 80 percent or more of the value of a conference’s TV/streaming contracts can be traced directly or indirectly to football, and the Big Ten and SEC are cashing in on that new reality so much more than everyone else that those two leagues have become magnets for many of the nation’s other top-tier football schools.

Thanks to their recently upgraded TV contracts, the Big Ten and SEC expect to be signing annual shared-revenue checks worth $90 million or more (per school) by the end of this decade. The ACC and Big 12 project to be around $60 million or so at the same stage. That soon-to-arrive $30 million per year gap inspired the latest round of college sports chaos.

The top two football brands in the Big 12, Oklahoma and Texas, are leaving for the SEC next summer. The top four football brands in the Pac-12, Oregon, Southern Cal, UCLA and Washington, are leaving for the Big Ten next summer.

The top two football brands in the ACC, Clemson and Florida State, would like to jump to the much bigger money of either the Big Ten or the SEC at some point soon, too. Remember, money matters and credible financial projections are exactly what led Maryland, a founding ACC member, to leave the conference for the much wealthier Big Ten almost a decade ago.

“We love the ACC. We love our partners at ESPN. Our goal would be to stay in the ACC,” Florida State president Richard McCullough said last week. “But staying in the ACC, with the current situation, it is hard for us to figure out how we remain competitive unless there were a major change in the revenue distribution within the ACC conference itself. … We have spent a year trying to understand how we might fix the issue, (but) that has not happened.”

According to more than a dozen sources, only the league’s Grant of Rights, a legal document executed in 2016 that gives the ACC the value of a school’s media rights (whether they stay in the league or not) all the way through 2036, has prevented the Seminoles (thus far) from jumping into this latest round of conference realignment.

Any team trying to leave the ACC in 2024 (1) must notify the conference, in writing, by Aug. 15 of this year, (2) would owe an ACC bylaw-specified exit fee of roughly $120 million, and (3) barring a successful legal challenge, would leave behind the value of its media rights from 2024-25 through 2035-36. That amount is estimated to be worth more than $400 million over those 12 seasons, according to the league’s current, long-term contract with ESPN.

While their attorneys continue to contemplate potential legal challenges to the Grant of Rights, FSU and Clemson have pushed hard for the ACC to stray from their decades-long commitment to (roughly) equal revenue sharing, and earlier this year they did receive one major concession.

Although the details haven’t been finalized, there will be a new performance-incentive component to the ACC’s revenue-sharing policy starting in 2024-25. For example, any school that makes the College Football Playoff or a major bowl game, and any school that advances in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, would get a much larger chunk of that postseason revenue, rather than simply a 1/15th (basketball) or 1/14th (football) share, as is the case now.

Importantly, the Seminoles and Tigers also requested, but were denied, a proposed change to the revenue-distribution policy that would have benefitted those schools that draw the most TV/streaming eyeballs, especially in football.

As the numbers below indicate clearly, Florida State and Clemson have been by far the ACC’s biggest football TV draws over the last nine seasons, even when you exclude those schools’ appearances in the ACC championship game and/or major bowls.

The Tigers were by far the league’s best program in that stretch, with seven ACC titles, but the Seminoles consistently drew huge audiences despite struggling to mediocre or losing records in five of those nine campaigns.

ACC Football (2014-22) Regular-Season Viewership Per Game

(Excluding ACC Network)

Rank/School, Regular-Season Average

  1. Florida State, 3.17 million
  2. Clemson, 3.08 million
  3. Miami, 2.04 million
  4. Louisville, 2.02 million
  5. Virginia Tech, 1.92 million
  6. Syracuse, 1.76 million
  7. Georgia Tech, 1.70 million
  8. Virginia, 1.68 million
  9. NC State, 1.65 million
  10. Pittsburgh, 1.65 million
  11. North Carolina, 1.57 million
  12. Boston College, 1.49 million
  13. Wake Forest, 1.26 million
  14. Duke, 1.02 million

FSU and Clemson definitely benefit, brand-wise and with their TV numbers, from being placed on more desirable channels and in more desirable time slots more frequently. Generally speaking, for example, ABC games draw larger audiences than ESPN games, which draw larger audiences than ESPN2 games, which draw larger audiences than ESPNU games, etc.

At the same time, the Seminoles and the Tigers are assigned those channels and time slots at least in part because they have earned them. Historically, they have huge fan followings, and they often have sparkling records and/or play challenging nonconference opponents.

“The issue at hand is what can we do to allow ourselves to be competitive in football and get what I think, selfishly, is the revenue we deserve in our media situation,” McCullough said. “FSU helps to drive value (and) will drive value for any partner.”

Last season, when Florida State (10-3, #11 in the final Associated Press poll) and Clemson (11-3, #13) both posted double-digit win totals, they together were responsible for the ACC’s top five — and six of the top 10 — regular-season TV audiences.

ACC Football (2022) Largest Regular-Season Audiences

Rank/Game, Viewership

  1. Florida State vs. LSU*, 7.55 million (Labor Day weekend)
  2. Florida at Florida State*, 6.71 million (Day after Thanksgiving)
  3. NC State at Clemson, 4.98 million
  4. Clemson at Georgia Tech, 4.86 million (Labor Day weekend)
  5. Syracuse at Clemson, 4.75 million
  6. Tennessee at Pittsburgh*, 4.46 million
  7. NC State at North Carolina, 3.61 million (Day after Thanksgiving)
  8. Notre Dame at North Carolina*, 3.46 million
  9. Miami at Texas A&M*, 3.41 million
  10. Clemson at Florida State, 3.38 million

*-nonconference game

Moving forward, Clemson and FSU have a very good argument that they’re bringing more value to the ACC’s multimedia deals than they’re getting in return.

Of course, the ACC’s best argument is that both schools already are getting exactly what they literally signed up for — with both the Grant of Rights and the league’s revenue-sharing model.

What will happen next is hard to predict, but that Aug. 15 deadline certainly will be worth watching this year … and in 2024 … and in 2025 … and, if nobody leaves by then, pretty much every year after that, too.

David Glenn ( is an award-winning author, broadcaster, editor, entrepreneur, publisher, speaker, writer and university lecturer (now at UNC Wilmington) who has covered sports in North Carolina since 1987. does not charge subscription fees, and you can directly support our efforts in local journalism here. Want more of what you see on Chapelboro? Let us bring free local news and community information to you by signing up for our biweekly newsletter.