In the wake of Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF leaving the AAC, the conference has opted for some stability. The American Athletic Conference Board of Directors extended Mike Aresco’s contract for an additional three seasons. This will see Aresco stay in the role through June 2025.
In a press release from the conference, the AAC Board of Directors sites Aresco’s strategic vision to develop the conference, developing the AAC brand into one of the elite conferences in college athletics, and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons why they were offering him an extension.
There was no note about his salary in the press release from the conference, though according to public records Mike Aresco made $2,246,027 in total compensation for the 2020 fiscal year.
While there are a lot of reasons why Aresco has been given this extension, his ability to negotiate media deals has always been incredibly important. The current AAC deal is more than double the value of any other Group of Five conference. It is strictly through ESPN, and it importantly embraces streaming. This embrace of streaming was criticized by UConn, and sighted as one of the reasons they left the conference, wanting to keep basketball games on local cable. However, for the rest of the conference, this has helped to expand their individual footprints in sports beyond football, including all the Olympic sports. It’s this media deal that lands minor AAC football games on ESPN+ while getting more games in prime cable windows. It’s also why the AAC is largely seen as the best G5 conference to be a member of.
Now, as those three teams leave the conference, Aresco is going to re-negotiate that media deal. There is a clause that allows for the dollar value to change if teams come or go that impacts the value of the conference. That wasn’t triggered by UConn leaving, but you can guarantee three major football products, not to mention the conference’s best basketball school, will.
This, ultimately, shows confidence that Mike Aresco is the person capable of running these negotiations. It also means that he is trusted to rebuild the conference and keep them at the highest level of the G5 through conference realignment. His plan, which is reportedly to go after UAB and several Mountain West schools, would likely be to maintain the value of the media deal while making sure the conference’s perception doesn’t take a hit.
Interestingly, the three year extension is shorter than Aresco’s previous extension. In 2017, the AAC commissioner was given a five year extension through 2022. So, while this is a vote of confidence in his plan, it’s one that is expected to work quickly.
To this point, the AAC has only ever had one commissioner, Mike Aresco. He had been hired to be the Big East commissioner, previously working with CBS Sports as their executive VP for programming. However, due to the conference’s collapse, and subsequent rebrand, he has only ever held the role of American Athletic Commissioner. Now, that will continue through 2025.