The NCAA women’s basketball tournament has been a lightning rod for controversy in recent years, but a positive change may be in the works.
Per the Sports Business Journal, the NCAA is considering unbundling the women’s tournament, and perhaps other events, from a larger package that includes various other championships, like baseball, softball, gymnastics, and soccer, along with the international rights to the men’s basketball tournament.
The existing deal for these championships is with ESPN, and runs through the 2023-24 season. It was last negotiated way back in 2011, and pays a total of $500 million, or around $40 million per season.
The thinking is that the women’s basketball tournament alone could exceed what the NCAA is receiving for the rest of the package. And if that championship event is unbundled, why not unbundle others? Here’s more from the SBJ story.
If the women’s basketball tournament is unbundled from the package of rights and sold on its own, industry insiders expect that the championship itself could fetch more than the $40 million the NCAA gets for the entire package now.
If the NCAA unbundles those rights, it will have to decide how far to go with it. Does the governing body unbundle women’s basketball only, or will it unbundle, for example, baseball and softball or other championships?
The NCAA is seeking a media consultant to help with selling the package and also advise it on whether or not to unbundle any events.
The women’s basketball tournament is the headline event when it comes to unbundling because of how much attention the differences between the men’s and women’s basketball tournament have been getting in recent years. A report commissioned by the NCAA in 2021 found that the organization was “significantly undervaluing women’s basketball as an asset” due to its inclusion in the media rights package with the other championship events. Also in that report, the media rights for women’s tournament was estimated at a value of at least double the annual fee for what is currently being paid the entire championship package.
For the 2022 tournament, the NCAA extended the March Madness branding to the women’s tournament, and aligned the budgeting procedures for the men’s and women’s tournaments. However, the calls for unbundling the women’s tournament, selling it separately, and dishing out “units” like in the men’s tournament continued to grow during that tournament.
While the women’s tournament will still be in the existing package in 2023 and 2024, the 2025 tournament might be out on its own, and we could start seeing some significant changes come that time.