NCAA Women’s Tournament TV rights may have completely different look

In the weeks earlier than the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, the massive focus was on bettering the expertise for gamers, together with increasing the “March Madness” branding to the occasion for the primary time.

Broadcast rights and the thousands and thousands of {dollars} hooked up to them will quickly develop into extra of a precedence.

The NCAA championships package deal — which incorporates the ladies’s match and 28 different title occasions, although not the lads’s tourney — expires in August 2024. That means the bidding course of for no matter packages the NCAA decides to market would doubtless start subsequent fall.

ESPN at present pays $34 million per 12 months for that package deal of 29 occasions, which it agreed to in 2011. The Kaplan Report, which was commissioned by the NCAA after obvious inequities between the 2021 males’s and girls’s tournaments have been dropped at mild, estimated that the ladies’s match may have a market worth of $96 million to $101 million per 12 months as a separate package deal.

Will the NCAA attempt to promote the occasion as its personal product? It is a query on the minds of many within the ladies’s sport, together with South Carolina coach Dawn Staley who needs to see match groups money in identical to the lads.

NCAA President Mark Emmert mentioned final week earlier than the Final Four that each one choices are on the desk.

“We’re heading into just the right period to be looking at and determine the best approach going forward for a new contract,” he mentioned. “Whether that’s splitting up sports, whether that’s keeping some of it together, we’ll have to determine that, and we’ll have to work with outside experts, as we always do, who provide the necessary data and expertise in all of that.”

South Carolina’s 64-49 victory over Connecticut on Sunday night time averaged 4.85 million viewers on ESPN, making it the most-watched ladies’s championship sport since 2004. It was additionally the fourth-largest viewers for the title sport for the reason that community started airing your complete match in 1996.

The match total averaged 634,000 viewers per sport, a 16% improve over final 12 months, with lots of the rounds seeing their highest averages in additional than 10 years. This was the second 12 months that each one video games aired on not less than one channel nationally as an alternative of going to regional audiences.

It was additionally the second 12 months that ABC aired 4 video games the primary weekend of the match whereas ESPN launched an alternate feed for the Final Four weekend on ESPN2 with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi offering commentary. The championship sport aired at 8 p.m. Eastern; in earlier years, tipoff was at 6 p.m. so the sport would precede “Sunday Night Baseball”. That wasn’t the case this 12 months after the basetball season was delayed because of the lockout.

The subsequent step could possibly be for the title sport to air on ABC, which, like ESPN, is owned by Disney. Rebecca Lobo, a former UConn star and longtime analyst on ESPN, mentioned it’s extra of a query of when quite than if.

“It’s moving in the right direction. As a women’s basketball fan, that’s my hope, because I know it rates higher, draws a bigger audience and it’s a bigger platform,” she mentioned. “Ideally, to me, that’s where our biggest game would be.”

Advertising stock bought out a month earlier than the match began and included 14 sponsors and 22 advertisers. Disney Advertising’s Deidra Maddock, the vice chairman of sports activities model options, additionally identified that just about two million brackets have been crammed out on the ESPN Women’s Tournament Challenge web page.

Having the primary two weekends go Friday by Monday, as an alternative of Saturday by Tuesday as had been the case in earlier years additionally helped with elevated attendance and rankings. While Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was not joyful about enjoying a regional last on a Monday earlier than enjoying within the Final Four 4 nights later, it may have been worse if the final two regional finals have been on a Tuesday.

UCLA coach and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association President Cori Close mentioned a chance can be to have the primary two weekends go Thursday by Sunday, identical to the lads’s match. While the Kaplan Report prompt enjoying on days the lads’s match is off, a Sunday by Wednesday mannequin can be a detriment to gamers in addition to attendance and rankings.

Another thought from the report that isn’t getting a lot traction is having one or two networks have each the lads’s and girls’s match. The CBS/Turner take care of the lads’s match runs till 2036 and the thought of two networks having to probably program 32 video games in at some point — 16 every for males’s and girls’s within the first spherical — wouldn’t make it possible.

CBS and Turner’s unique contract with the NCAA was for 14 years at $10.8 billion (common $770 million per 12 months). They signed an extension in 2016 and the per 12 months common will leap to $1.1 billion starting in 2025.

Tag Garson, Wasserman’s senior vice chairman of properties, mentioned the largest key to any upcoming rights deal is ensuring there’s flexibility in adapting to a altering media panorama.

“A few years ago, there wasn’t a Paramount Plus, Disney Plus or Peacock. There is something to be said for having stability, in an age within collegiate athletics or intercollegiate athletics that there hasn’t been as much stability recently,” Garson mentioned. “But at the same time, if anybody can tell you where media is headed in the next decade, I have a bridge to sell you.”

That uncertainy is actually an element for the NCAA, which is below scrutiny in the case of bettering gender fairness even because it overhauls its very method to governing greater than 1,200 member faculties with almost 500,000 athletes.

“That’s our big quest. How do we find the best intersection between attendance, TV ratings, corporate sponsorship, student-athlete welfare and competitive equity, and where do all those circles of priorities converge?” Close requested. “There are times where things need to be exactly equal. But there are other times where we just want a chance to be successful in our own landscape.”


More AP ladies’s faculty basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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