ACC hopes success of Jackson, Clemson provides boost in ’17

The Atlantic Coast Conference hopes its success of last season can boost the league this year — on the field and the balance sheet.

The ACC returns the Heisman Trophy winner, the reigning national champion and has two top-five teams in the national polls. The league’s success has helped make the conference even more attractive to fans and viewers — starting with a list of opening-week matchups that include Florida State-Alabama, Virginia Tech-West Virginia and Georgia Tech-Tennessee.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Commissioner John Swofford said 2016 “may well have been the best year in our league’s history” while saying the league has trended up for about five years.

“And in today’s world, from the conference’s standpoint, that’s really important,” Swofford said. “It’s helped us tremendously in terms of where we’re headed, television-wise. It’s helped us tremendously in terms of our bowl associations that we now have and will have for a good while to come.”

He hopes that success will buoy the entire league as it prepares for the launch of its ESPN-affiliated television channel in two years, added to its roster of corporate sponsors and begins work on negotiating the next round of bowl contracts.

“Everybody wants to be associated with something that’s high-quality, something that’s successful, something that wins,” Swofford said of those sponsors.

ACC football certainly seems like an easy sell this year.

Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is back for his junior season after earning the top individual honor in the sport. No. 5 Clemson is out to defend its first national championship since 1981. And No. 3 Florida State shapes up as a top contender for another College Football Playoff berth.

Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College in Massachusetts who has written dozens of books on the business of sports, expects a bump in general across the ACC.

“Whenever you have star charismatic players who get a lot of publicity, and you have a championship team, you get more attention,” Zimbalist said. “There will be more interest at the schools, and therefore stronger attendance at the schools that have not been selling out their games. … Because of the increased interest, there will probably be more sponsorship money available. There will be a boost. Usually, all of these things interact.”

If so, such a box-office boost figures to be tough to tangibly measure.

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