Fans looking for the starting times for the games for Week 11 of the ACC Football season are playing a bit of a waiting game. While the starting time for the Thursday Nov. 8 ESPN matchup between Florida State and Virginia Tech has long been set for 7:30 p.m., the kickoffs for the five games slated two days later won't be announced until Sunday, Nov. 4. Michael Kelly, the ACC's Senior Associate Commissioner who oversees Broadcasting, Communications and Football Operations, discusses the factors that go into the conference's football scheduling with ACC Associate Communications Director Steve Phillips.
Is there a basic format that is used in determining the starting times of ACC Football games?
The networks let us know by May 15 the first three weeks of the season. They make their best projections at that point in time about what games they want to put on what networks. Starting with Week 4, their basic selection process is to choose 12 days out, on the Monday (almost) two weeks prior.
But in the case of next week - and in some other weeks this season and in the past - the window has been only six days. Why is that?
On four different occasions during the year, they can push that back to a six-day hold. The logic for that is that they've paid their rights fee and certainly want to have as much scheduling flexibility as they possibly can. A lot that goes with that, particularly as we get into this final month of the season, is that they really like to see the games that might have the most impact on the divisional races heading into the ACC Championship Game. Those are the criteria they look at just from an ACC standpoint. They also look at all their platforms from a national perspective on all the different properties that they have rights to.
How many parties are involved when it comes to determining starting times?
Our ultimate rights holder is ESPN. They usually have three people in their programming department that are in charge of those selections. We have a key contact with the ACC Network who is involved in those discussions in addition to a programmer from our RSN (Regional Sports Network) package as well. Basically, that group of five gets together every Monday morning and determines what fits best in terms of what they want to do. The key part for ACC Football is that they have an obligation to broadcast every game.
How many games are allotted to each network?
There are a maximum number of games that can be put on ESPN3 - but those games do give the home teams the flexibility to determine the game time. Then every week there is always an ACC Network game that kicks off at 12:30. There is one RSN game as well that can vary anywhere from noon to 3:30 or at night, but it is a mid-afternoon game in most cases. And then ESPN has the full range to put our games anywhere they want.
What are ESPN's options as far as game times?
They have a noon window for ESPN, ESPN2, ABC and ESPNU, and they have a 3:30 window for all of those same platforms. And then at night, all of those platforms have programming options as well. If you look at it like puzzle pieces, they have three or four platforms they can put a game on in each one of those time frames.
Do they consider only ACC games when looking at potential game times?
No. They balance the inventory they have from the ACC with other conferences, whether that be the SEC, the Big Ten, the Big 12 or the Pac 12. They look at the schedule in any given week and figure out the games they think will drive the best ratings in each one of the windows.
There is some opinion that the atmosphere surrounding a night game gives the home team a distinct competitive advantage. Has the ACC done any type of studies along those lines, and if so, what did you discover?
We really haven't looked it that closely from a competitive standpoint. What we hear more of is that fans enjoy game times that might maximize the amount of time that they can tailgate or allow them to travel to a destination. We hear a lot of feedback on that. Unfortunately, there is only so much control that we have in that process.
Is there any way to assure every ACC team gets a shot at a prime-time game?
I think people ultimately would love a good balance to it, to have a little bit of everything. Sometimes that works out and in some cases it just doesn't. It is important to keep track of what time people end up (playing) each week, and we share that information with the networks so they will have it as part of their considerations when it comes time to making their decisions. But it often comes down not just to what games might be available in the ACC, but the hard balance the networks have to drive with the other conferences. I often get calls that will say, 'Hey, this is the best game in the ACC today. It should have been on at night time.' Well, that could have been the night they had a showcase matchup of higher ranked teams, and they decided they wanted to put that at night. We're still in a national window, but it might be earlier in the day. So we don't get everything we want in that case.
So it sounds like there are times you share in the fans' and the school's frustration when it comes to missing out on a prime-time opportunity.
There are times we get frustrated. We push for a game if we know it's important to a particular school, and sometimes it just falls victim to what week of the year it falls on and how that compares to the inventory available from elsewhere in our league or from other conferences. Sometimes that just doesn't work in our favor.
I am old enough to remember when game times were pretty much set in stone months in advance, but the ACC might have been lucky to get one televised game a week. Do you think it is better this way, even though starting times for most games aren't determined until much later?
I think so. It think it's great that all of our games are available, so even if you can't go to a game you can still see it, whether that be through mobile technology or on television and the many platforms that our partners bring to the table. Our schools get the revenue from that, and our schools get the exposure from that. What we can't always get, obviously, is the exact time of day we'd like to play it.
Is there a general consensus among everyone that night time is the best time to play a football game?
What's interesting is that fans, coaches and television executives all look at things differently sometimes. I hear from a great many coaches who say they like the idea of getting right after it, playing early and getting some extra rest on the back end. It seems like everyone enjoys the excitement of a night game at home, but they don't always like the excitement of a night game on the road because it is a tougher environment and it gets them back to campus so much later, sometimes as late as 3 or 4 in the morning. If we could find a way to allow everyone to play a mid-afternoon or night game at home every week it would be well received. Unfortunately, that's not possible.
We are in the midst of a stretch where we play four Thursday night games. What does that allow in the way of scheduling flexibility?
One of things about being flexible to play a Thursday night game or the Labor Day Monday night game - If playing a night game is important to a school, that is one way we can get that done. We can get it announced well in advance, when the schedule is first released. It really won't matter what your record might be at that point and time or what other conferences might come into play, because you will be the only game in town that night. Look at this part of the schedule - We might only have four games on a Saturday, and it looks like a light day. But then you have to remember that we played on Thursday night those weeks as well. Take Virginia Tech and Miami this week - as good a game as that might be, that might be noon or 3:30 game if we waited until Saturday. Now, instead, they get a prime-time, exclusive opportunity. We have five nights a year where those windows are automatically available.