March Madness

College basketball ratings took a substantial hit in both the regular season and the NCAA tournament this year, but March Madness broadcasters CBS and Turner seem bullish on the sport, announcing Tuesday that they’d signed an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension to take their joint deal for the NCAA tournament (which previously expired after the 2024 event) through 2032. The deal covers not just TV and current streaming technology, but also any future platforms within those companies’ portfolios:

Through the terms of the new deal, Turner and CBS Sports will provide live coverage of all NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship games across any platform within their respective portfolios, including those to be created over the life of the agreement.

CBS Sports and Turner will continue to manage and collaborate on the NCAA’s corporate marketing program. Additionally, Turner will continue to manage March Madness Live and, along with major events surrounding NCAA championships, including the NCAA March Madness Fan Fest and Music Festival.

The tournament has delivered significant audiences across all platforms throughout the six-year partnership between Turner and CBS.  Television coverage across TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV has averaged more than 10.2 million total viewers in its respective game telecast windows over the last six years.  NCAA March Madness Live has more than doubled the number of its live video streams and live hours of consumption since 2011.

This deal was remarkable when it was initially signed for the partnership between two networks and the sharing of announcers and crews on a single event, but we’re seeing that more and more these days. Another prime example is Thursday Night Football (CBS/NFL Network initially, now CBS/NBC/NFL Network), which also has seen some crossover. There are some challenges in a multi-network partnership, but this one seems to be working well enough for both CBS and Turner to agree to extend it so far ahead of its expiration deadline.

They’ll be paying more for it, too. The current deal is $10.4 billion over 14 years ($740 million per year on average), while the extension is $8.8 billion for eight years ($1.1 billion per year on average). Here’s what CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus and Turner president David Levy had to say about their partnership and this extension in the release:

“The NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship has been a cornerstone of CBS Sports for more than three decades, and we are very pleased to extend our successful partnership with the NCAA and Turner under the same terms that have worked so well for us these past several years,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus. “This spectacular tournament continues to solidify CBS’s position as a leading broadcaster of signature championship events, delivering an unparalleled opportunity to present one of our nation’s most popular sports franchises. Best of all, this historic extension positions CBS for a profitable future as we fully maximize the value and exposure of this great event across all assets of our corporation, both current platforms and those created during the lifetime of the deal.”

“Our partnership with CBS and the NCAA has exceeded all of our expectations, and this new long-term agreement continues to align Turner with one of the premier sports properties that generates unrivaled fan engagement for more than three weeks every year,” said Turner President David Levy. “Our expansive rights provide us with a tremendous opportunity to build and pursue new business extensions while developing an even deeper connection with our fans across existing platforms, as well as those to be created in the future. As we pursue all of these opportunities, Turner is uniquely positioned to monetize these broad rights across every aspect of our business.” 

This extension isn’t exactly shocking, as Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand and Michael Smith reported in December that there were discussions underway about extending the deal for up to eight more years, and Deadspin’s Kevin Draper reported last week that the sides had agreed to an extension. It’s interesting that the networks and the NCAA would agree to such a long deal so far in advance of the old one’s expiry, though. That’s a bit of a gamble on both sides; the networks are betting that sports rights won’t drastically drop in value before then (leaving them with a too-hefty contract), while the NCAA’s gambling that rights won’t rise dramatically (leaving them locked into a sub-market contract). We’ll see how that plays out.

One other notable element here is that the floated idea of keeping the Final Four on Turner and the championship game on CBS appears to have fallen by the wayside for now. From the release:

Under the new agreement, all opening-, first- and second-round games will continue to be shown across TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV with Turner and CBS splitting coverage of the regional semifinals and regional finals each year. Live coverage of the Final Four national semifinals and national championship will continue to alternate between CBS and Turner each year, with CBS broadcasting the games in 2017 and TBS televising them in 2018.

So we’ll continue to see alternating Final Four and championship coverage each year, and we’ll continue to see Turner and CBS broadcast this tournament for the next 16 years. Maybe they’ll be broadcasting it to our flying cars by then.

[CBS Press Express]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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