Clark: What in the world is the ACC Network doing?
When new ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips visited Florida State last week, he made it abundantly clear to many people he spoke with that he is focused on shrinking the revenue gap between the ACC and other Power 5 conferences.
He also acknowledged that football has to be the conference's economic driver.
That's where the cash is. He knows it. And after getting lapped in revenue by the SEC and the Big Ten over the last decade, everyone associated with the conference now knows it as well.
So it's great to hear that we're all on the same page. Now, it's time to start doing something about it. And a great place to begin might be with the ACC Network and its flagship daily show, Packer and Durham, which often seems focused on everything else BUT football.
The ACC was obviously late in getting into the network business. The Big Ten and SEC were already changing tires and refilling the gas tank before the ACC even started its engine and got on the track.
But that doesn't mean the race is over, right? The ACC Network can try to compete with the SEC Network. It doesn't just have to idle while Paul Finebaum drops the hammer on the back straightaway (man, how about these racing references? I'm like Dr. Jerry Punch over here!).
Seriously though, one would think the ACC Network would be going out of its way to emphasize football -- the biggest money-making sport, by far, in college athletics.
And yet, here was the guest lineup for the Packer and Durham Show on Monday morning. Keep in mind, this is the FIRST show after the NFL Draft. A draft in which the ACC had the No. 1 overall pick in Trevor Lawrence and finished second in the country in players selected.
The first interview was with UNC women's lacrosse goalkeeper Taylor Moreno. The second interview was with Notre Dame men's lacrosse midfielder Tommy McNamara. The third interview was with UNC men's lacrosse goalkeeper Collin Krieg (man, two UNC lacrosse goalkeepers in one day! Has that ever been done in the history of television?!?). And then finally, the last interview was with studio host Dalen Cuff to talk about the upcoming NCAA women's soccer tournament games.
This is the flagship show for the ACC Network. The Monday after the NFL Draft. And the guests were: Lacrosse player, lacrosse player, lacrosse player, studio host to talk about soccer.
What in the world are we doing here?
I'm not sure the SEC Network's Finebaum has ever done a lacrosse interview in his life. And I'm darn sure many in his audience can't spell the word. And yet, when it comes to this particular subject, they appear to be the smart ones. Because, other than a small, small, small percentage of people in this country ... nobody is tuning in to watch college lacrosse!
So, why then, are Packer and Durham devoting three full interviews to it? On the Monday after the NFL Draft?
I can't fathom that this is a decision Mark Packer and Wes Durham are making for themselves. They don't book the show. But why are the people who do book the show so dedicated to not interviewing people associated with the sport that pays ALL the bills?
Is this an edict from above?
"Be sure to get those lacrosse interviews in today, guys! And let's not forget soccer. Maybe sprinkle in some college tennis as well."
"What about the NFL Draft, though?"
"I said I want lacrosse interviews, dammit! Now make it happen!"
Phillips has only been in charge of the ACC for a few months, and I don't know the man at all. But I can't imagine he's OK with the content on his new conference channel. Not when he's trying to play catch-up to the SEC Network, which actually makes a habit of providing shows and interviews that their audience is interested in.
Last week, in leading up to the NFL Draft, Finebaum had these guests on his show: Mel Kiper Jr., college football writer Bruce Feldman, College Football Playoff Committee chairman Bill Hancock, Nick Saban, NFL Draft analyst Trevor Sikkema, Kirby Smart, college football writer Andy Staples, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna, Mark Stoops, ESPN draft analyst Field Yates, Danny Wuerffel, college football writer Tony Barnhardt and Tuscaloosa columnist Cecil Hurt.
Are we sensing a theme with these guests?
Here's who Packer and Durham had on their show: ESPN lacrosse analyst Dana Boyle, Louisville field hockey coach Justine Sowry, UNC lacrosse player Cam Macri (are there any lacrosse players at UNC that HAVEN'T been on the show at this point?), Syracuse lacrosse player Jakob Phaub ... and you know what? I can't do this anymore. You get the point. Clemson's golf coach was interviewed. So was the UNC women's tennis coach.
In total, in the week of the NFL Draft, the ACC Network's flagship show interviewed zero ACC football players and one ACC head coach, Dino Babers, and that was mainly about dealing with the pandemic. They talked to one college football writer, Andrea Adelson, who talked about name, image and likeness.
Not a single guest on to talk about the NFL Draft. Not. One.
Now, the hosts themselves DID talk about the NFL Draft occasionally. But that was in between the parade of lacrosse players and field hockey coaches.
Again, what are we doing here?
Wes Durham knows football. He was the play-by-play man for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and, for my money, is one of the best in the business in the NFL as the voice of the Atlanta Falcons. I've met him a few times. He is a very nice man, he knows sports, and I think he's tremendous at his job.
So, for heaven's sake, quit throwing lacrosse interviews at the guy! Let him talk football. Please, for all that is good in this world, let him talk football. Let him talk to football players. And football coaches.
It's not like the ACC Network doesn't have contact info for these people. Get them on the show!
Maybe it's because "Packer and Durham" is a morning show, and only field hockey and tennis coaches are up at that hour? Maybe the guest list is limited because people don't want to do interviews at 7:45 in the morning. Then record them the night before. Or move the hours of the show. Do something to actually get interviews that people will watch.
Are you not trying to draw a crowd? To get ratings and market the product? To make money? Isn't that the goal?
And yet, unlike the networks that actually DO make real money, the ACC treats its channel like a high school yearbook: Everyone gets equal time. Every sport gets its own page. Except for lacrosse, of course, which gets a four-page color spread in the middle.
I get that there are going to be other sports featured. That's how these channels work. I might not think it makes any sense from a business standpoint to show a replay of the ACC golf championship as opposed to the 2014 FSU-Clemson football game on a loop, but sure, let other sports get their time to shine.
It's a network for all the schools. And all the sports.
But please understand that nobody, outside of an extremely small group, wants to hear from the Louisville field hockey coach. So who is that being done for? Why is that happening?
Finebaum is out here talking with Kiper, Saban and Smart the week of the draft. Packer and Durham are talking with every UNC lacrosse player who has ever lived and the Clemson golf coach. Not the Clemson football coach, who, you know, had the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, but the golf coach.
It makes no sense.
And please don't mistake this for me taking a shot at the two hosts: Like I mentioned, I've listened to Durham for years and love his work. And I've certainly got no ill will towards Packer, either. He is very well-respected and well-liked in the business.
But they're being tasked with interviewing players from every team in every sport apparently. At the expense of talking about the one sport that the ACC's own commissioner admits matters most financially.
Meanwhile, Finebaum mainly talks to football folks. Because Finebaum, and the SEC Network as a whole, care about what draws eyes and ears.
It'd be nice if the ACC Network took the same approach. Otherwise, what was the point of even getting in this race in the first place?
For a quick perspective on the popularity and production of the two channels: The ACC Network has 70,800 followers on Twitter. The SEC Network has 1 million.
We keep being told that the conference understands how important football is and how the mindset in Greensboro, N.C., has changed to reflect that. And yet, if I was tuning in to Monday's Packer and Durham (which would mean I likely live somewhere other than Tallahassee since it's still not available on cable here), I saw the hosts chat about the draft for a bit, and then I got an avalanche of lacrosse interviews.
Most networks are interested in ratings. In making money. In getting lucrative sponsorships. The ACC is apparently cool with hawking night-vision binoculars for the rest of time.
It makes no sense.
Hopefully, Jim Phillips realizes this and the network does an about-face and actually tries to start producing content that people care about. It would be a refreshing change of pace.
Contact senior writer Corey Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @Corey_Clark on Twitter.