NCAA, CBS, Turner Extend ‘Madness’

On the heels of one of the most exciting college hoops championship games in recent memory – Villanova’s buzzer-beater to defeat the University of North Carolina 77-74 – the National Collegiate Athletic Association has extended its multimedia rights agreement for the Men’s NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship with CBS and Turner Networks for eight years, in a deal valued at $8.8 billion.

The new deal extends the agreement through 2032, ensuring that the championship tournament, also known as March Madness, will be telecast by the networks for almost two more decades. The three originally reached a 14-year deal for the tournament in 2010, in a pact valued at $10.8 billion.

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.

The decision to extend the deal when it still had eight years left – it would have expired in 2024 – was an easy one given the scarcity of iconic sports events like March Madness, Turner president David Levy said on a conference call with reporters.

“From Turner’s perspective, there are very few premium sports properties available that produce the kind of value the NCAA Tournament delivers to our distributors, our advertisers and our consumers,” Levy said.  “As the media landscape continues to evolve, these expansive rights provide us with incredible opportunities to build and pursue new business extensions while developing a deeper connection to our fans across all these different platforms.”

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said the deal fits with the network’s strategy of airing large, iconic events, whether it be the Grammy Awards, the Super Bowl, or the NCAA Tournament.

“When the opportunity presented itself to talk to the NCAA and Turner to extend another eight years, we were very enthusiastic to do that,” McManus said on the conference call. “The fact that we’re securing another big event that has been part of CBS for 35 years is a really great addition and continuation to our lineup of premier events on CBS.”    

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 extension of our current agreement will allow our more than 1,100 NCAA member colleges and universities to continue to support student-athletes on 19,000 teams across 24 sports,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert in a statement. “We have a diverse membership with varying resource levels, and this extension will assist our campuses as they provide pathways to opportunity in higher education and beyond for nearly a half a million young men and women each year.”

This year’s tournament was the first where the championship game was aired on cable. Ratings for the championship game were down from the prior year when they were on the broadcast network.

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.

Levy said despite the lower cable ratings, there are no plans to change the format.

Levy said a combination of early upsets that eliminated high profile and large market teams like Michigan State University put ratings pressure on the entire tournament, not just the championship game. And he added that the previous five years of the agreement had increased ratings every year.

“This year was sort of an anomaly,” Levy said on the conference call. “The story lines and the match ups as well as the competitiveness of the games really played into the whole tournament. Case in point: last year’s 2015 Kentucky-Wisconsin semi-final game on TBS, was the highest [rated] game in 19 years, broadcast or cable. If there is the right story line the right marchup and a competitive game you’re going to get a rating whether its broadcast or cable.”

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.

Turner and CBS Sports will maintain the existing sales partnership surrounding the NCAA Corporate Champion and Partner program.  This program has grown from nine to 17 members since the previous deal was announced in 2010.

“CBS Sports and Turner are great partners for the NCAA and its membership” remarked Joseph R. Castiglione, director of athletics at the University of Oklahoma and current chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, “Having their long-term commitment ensures that March Madness will remain one of the preeminent television sports properties.”