Beginning next spring, Turner Sports will plunge into madness, March Madness.
The NCAA has signed a new 14-year television, Internet and wireless rights agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., to present the Division I Men's Basketball Championship, beginning with the 2011 tournament through 2024.
As part of the $10.8 billion agreement, all 68 games, beginning in 2011, will be shown live across four national networks -- CBS, TNT, TBS and TruTV -- a first for the 73-year-old championship. The pact covers a tournament that expands from its current 65-game slate, and will put the Final Four and national title game on cable for the first time in 2016.
By opting out of the final three years of its $6 billion, 11-year agreement with CBS, the NCAA has gained full, national coverage for all first- and second-round games on the broadcast network, plus TBS, TNT and Tru TV. NCAA interim president Jim Isch, speaking on a Thursday afternoon conference call announcing the deal, said that had been one of the organization's goals all along. Under the existing contract those games were regionalized by CBS.
CBS and Turner then will split coverage of the regional semifinal games, with the broadcast network providing coverage of the regional finals, as well as the Final Four, and the national championship game through 2015.
Tipping in 2016, coverage of the regional finals will be split by CBS and Turner with the Final Four and the title tilt, alternating every year between CBS and Turner's TBS.
The new deal, which keeps ESPN out of the tournament well into the next decade, is valued at some $771 million annually, versus $545 million under the old pact.
"We made an aggressive bid and believe our combination of TV distribution, digital capabilities, season-long coverage and year-round marketing would have served the interests of the NCAA and college fans very well," ESPN said in a statement. "We remain committed to our unparalleled coverage of more than 1,200 men's and women's college basketball games each season."
However, CBS, which reportedly lost money on the tourney this year, despite increased ratings and a more robust advertising market, was slated to pay some $2.1 billion under the final three years of the back-loaded old agreement, which will expire on August 31.
"We were prepared to do the last three years of the current deal," said CBS Sports and News president Sean McManus said. "It's no secret that those last years were going to be very challenging based on the rights fees."
CBS College Sports Network, which had been televising a pair of afternoon out-of-market game on the tournament's first two days, will lose those contests.
McManus said the service's current subscriber base -- CBS College Sports currently counts some 38 million homes -- didn't allow for game coverage, but he anticipates that the service will "still have a presence" through highlights and shoulder programming.
McManus and Turner Sports president David Levy said the parties would be sharing in all revenues and expenses for the tournament, as well as in the production of March Madness.
"We expect the look and feel of this programming to be consistent across CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV," Levy said, noting that there would be distinct network branding.
Additionally, CBS Sports and Turner will collaborate on the NCAA's corporate marketing program, with both groups being able to sell sponsorships, as well as media. With the additional contests and dedicated windows for each of the games, Levy and McManus expect viewership and the tournament's pool of GRPs to grow substantially.
On the digital side of the new rights agreement, NCAA March Madness on Demand, the video player that provides live streaming video of the tournament, will continue to be launched from NCAA.com and CBSSports.com.
For its part, Turner has secured the rights for any Time Warner digital property. The player will be operated and developed by Turner and have enhanced digital rights allowing the NCAA to deliver content for multiple Turner and Time Warner platforms.
"We're going to look to find ways to provide a richer experience" online with March Madness, said Levy.
It was unclear if DirecTV's "Mega March Madness" pay-per-view, out-of-market package would continue under the new deal.
"Now that the TV arrangement is in place, we'll look at all other distribution platforms," said McManus.
On April 21 the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Committee unanimously passed a recommendation to the Division I board of directors to increase tournament field size to 68 teams beginning with the 2011 championship. The recommendation will be reviewed by the Division I board of directors at its April 29 meeting.
NCAA senior vice president of basketball and business strategies Greg Shaheen said the TV rights deal was not contingent upon the NCAA approving the expansion to 68 teams. Shaheen and Isch said no timelines were attached to tourney adjustments and neither ruled out a possible expansion to 96 teams in the future.
However, Isch said the board would likely approve the committee's recommendation, noting that 68 teams was "probably where we will be for now." There had been a multitude of reports indicating that the tourney could expand to 96 teams.
McManus said the deal provides the partners with "flexibility" if the tournament changes, but CBS is very comfortable with a 68-team field. "That deal meets are financial and programming needs," he said.
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