It looks like ESPN will be continuing with some of its more unusual summer programming this year, as the network’s announced that they’ve expanded their deal with social media-driven event The Basketball Tournament. The network will now air all 15 of TBT’s Super 16 games, with 11 of those being televised on ESPN channels and the other four on ESPN3. This will start with round of 16 games July 21 and wrap up with the semifinals and finals on ESPN itself, on July 30 and August 2 respectively.

What exactly is this tournament? Well, it’s in its third year, and it’s a a competition for $2 million in prize money played under college basketball rules, featuring both teams of alumni from a particular school (a Notre Dame alumni team won in 2014) and other entrants (a group of international professional players won last year). Teams are selected via social media applications, voting, fundraising and at-large picks from the TBT committee. Here’s a blurb from ESPN’s release about it: serves as the host for TBT’s social media driven application period, which runs from April 1 to June 1, 2016. The field will be made of 64 teams who will play in four regions of 16 apiece. The top vote getters in each region will receive “automatic” bids and one team per region will automatically qualify by raising the most money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. TBT will select up to 3 at-large teams per region, with the regional champions from 2015 completing the field. Teams can qualify for TBT 2016 only by getting votes from fans that register on the site, with the top 100 fans of the winning team splitting $200,000 (10 percent of the total prize).

TBT’s 2015 field included hundreds of players who have competed at the highest levels all over the world. Overseas Elite, a team of veteran international professional players, won last year’s $1 million winner-take-all title at the historic Rose Hill Gymnasium. Fans who voted for Overseas Elite shared in the winnings, taking home a combined $50,000 of the grand prize. The Notre Dame Fighting Alumni, a squad made up of some of the best players in University of Notre Dame history, won the inaugural title and $500,000 in 2014. Over 300 teams applied to join the tournament last year, which saw the winner-take-all prize double in value.

Players must be 18 years of age or older and all games are played under college rules with two 18-minute halves. In addition to Overseas Elite, university-based alumni teams representing schools like Syracuse University, Notre Dame, Princeton, Villanova, Virginia and others have competed in TBT’s previous editions, with more likely to join them in this and future years.

…Conceived by CEO Jonathan Mugar as the ultimate opportunity for fans, athletes and social media mavens to live out their dreams and chase once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, TBT’s foundation as a high-stakes, professionally run and organized sporting event, now sees it entering its third year. In its first two seasons, The Basketball Tournament drew over 400 team entries from around the country, with participants ranging from professional players and recent college stars to pickup basketball players and people who have never played above high school.  Among the event’s advisors are Tony Ponturo of Ponturo Management Group, Andy Dolich of Dolich Consulting, and Len DeLuca of Len DeLuca & Associates, LLC.

The tournament is sponsored by Jack Link’s Protein Snacks, with ESPN as a broadcast partner. Under the new deal, ESPN will air all of the Super 16 games in one way or another, with three games on ESPN, six games on ESPN2, two games on ESPNU, and four games on ESPN3. Here’s what Mugar and ESPN’s Dan Ochs had to say about why they expanded their deal:

“Our event continues to grow in stature and awareness, and we are again pleased to have ESPN along in an ever-expanding role to help us bring even more of our event to such a wide audience,” said Jon Mugar, TBT Founder. “We are experiencing exponential digital growth thus far in 2016 and anticipate a shockingly high level of play this summer. We strive to put on the highest stakes basketball product in the world, and I’d be surprised if our primetime championship game August 2 doesn’t get us all the way there.”

“ESPN is proud to continue its association with The Basketball Tournament, a unique concept and a high-caliber event with a proven track record,” said Dan Ochs, ESPN, director of content strategy and acquisitions. “As TBT doubles its prize money this year, we look forward to expanding our coverage of the event with 11 televised games, including the championship in primetime on ESPN.”

This is probably a decent move for ESPN, as there isn’t a lot else on the sports calendar that they have rights to at that time, and it’s programming that could provide at least an okay baseline viewership, with the potential for more if the tournament takes off. Explaining just what this is and why they should care to the average sports fan won’t be the simplest thing out there, but the university alumni connections could help, and it’s not like there’s a lot of other live basketball content available in late July. We’ll see how this works out for Bristol.

[Update: This post initially listed ESPN as a sponsor. They’re just a broadcast partner.]

[ESPN Media Zone]

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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