FAQ: How Football Game Times are Set

How many parties are involved when it comes to determining starting times?
The ACC’s ultimate rights holder is ESPN. Their programming department is in charge of those selections. The conference has 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, ESPN convenes that group every Monday morning and determines what fits best in terms of what they each want to do. The main plus for ACC Football fans is that our TV partners 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 – and those games do give the home teams the flexibility to determine the game time. There is an ACC Network game each week that kicks off at 12:30. There is one RSN game as well, and it is a mid-afternoon game in most cases. And then ESPN has the full range to put ACC games anywhere they want.

Is there a basic format that is used in determining the starting times of ACC Football games?
ESPN lets the ACC know during the spring for 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 those first three weeks. Starting with the Week 4 games, they make their selections 12 days out.

What are ESPN’s options as far as game times?
There is a noon window for ESPN, ESPN2, ABC and ESPNU, and also a 3:30 window for all of those same platforms. All of those platforms have programming options for Saturday evening as well. They televise a game in each one of those time frames.

There are times in which the game selection window is six days in advance. Why is that?
On four different occasions during the year, ESPN can push the deadline back to a six-day hold. The logic for that is they’ve paid their rights fee and certainly want to have as much scheduling flexibility as they possibly can. As we get into the season, ESPN really likes showcase the matchups that might have the most impact on the divisional races heading into the Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game and any other games that hold national significance. 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 to which they might hold rights.

What are the advantages to scheduling with the 12- or six-day windows as opposed to a schedule with starting times “etched in stone” from the beginning?
All of the games involving ACC teams are available, so even if fans can’t go to a game they 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 each game.

Does ESPN consider only ACC games when looking at potential game times?
No. They balance the inventory 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 most fan interest in each one of the windows.

Is there any way to assure every ACC team gets a shot at a prime-time game?
Unfortunately, there is no way from the conference’s perspective to be absolutely sure. It is important to keep track of what time teams play each week and the networks also make it a part of their considerations when it comes time to making their decisions. But it often comes down to the hard balance the networks have to drive with the other conferences. We often get calls from fans who will say, ‘Hey, this is the best game in the ACC today. It should have been on at night time.’ But that could have been the night ESPN had a showcase matchup of higher ranked teams from another conference, and they opted to televise that game at night. Our games are still in a national window, but they might be earlier in the day. So we don’t get everything we want in that case.

Does the ACC lobby the networks for desirable starting times?
We communicate regularly with our TV partners regarding the desires of our member institutions, but sometimes a school’s desire simply falls victim to the week of the year on which it is scheduled 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.

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. We 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.

We have some ACC games being played on Thursday and Friday nights this season. What does that allow in the way of scheduling flexibility?

If playing a night game is important to a school, this is one way we can get that done. Those games are all set and announced well in advance, when the schedule is first released. We get a prime-time, exclusive opportunity. And we have five nights a year where those windows are automatically available.