In the weeks before the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, there was a greater focus on improving the experience for players, including expanding the “March Madness” branding for the first time.
Broadcast rights and the millions of dollars associated with them will soon become a priority.
The NCAA championship package – which includes the women’s tournament and 28 other title events, though not the men’s tournament – expires in August 2024. That means the bidding process will begin next fall for whatever package the NCAA decides to bring to market.
ESPN currently pays $34 million per year for a package of 29 events that was agreed upon in 2011. The Kaplan Report, which was commissioned by the NCAA after the apparent disparities between the 2021 men’s and women’s tournaments, estimated the market value of women’s tournaments to be $96 million to $101 million per year. as a separate package.
Will the NCAA try to sell this event as its own product? It’s a question on the minds of many in the women’s game, including South Carolina coach Don Staley, who wants to see tournament teams cash in just as much as men’s.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said before the Final Four last week that all options are on the table.
“We are going into the right period to look at and determine the best outlook going forward for a new contract,” he said. “Whether he’s splitting the game, whether he’s putting some of it together, we have to determine, and we’ll have to work with outside experts, as we always do, to do what’s needed in all that. Provide data and expertise.”
South Carolina’s 64-49 win over Connecticut on Sunday night averaged 4.85 million viewers On ESPN, it became the most-watched women’s championship game since 2004. It was also the fourth largest audience for the title game since the network began broadcasting the entire tournament in 1996.
Overall the tournament averaged 634,000 spectators per game, a 16% increase over the previous year, with several tours seeing their highest average in more than 10 years. This was the second year that all the games were broadcast on at least one channel nationally instead of going to a regional audience.
It was also the second year that ABC aired four games over the first weekend of the tournament, while ESPN introduced an alternate feed for the final four weekends on ESPN 2 with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi providing commentary. The championship game aired at 8 p.m. Eastern; In previous years, the tipoff was at 6 p.m., so the game would be preceded by “Sunday Night Baseball”. That was not the case this year after the baseball season was delayed due to the lockdown.
The next step may be to air the title game on ABC, which, like ESPN, is owned by Disney. Rebecca Lobo, former Yukon star and longtime analyst at ESPN, said the question is if rather than when.
“It’s moving in the right direction. As a women’s basketball fan, that’s my hope, because I know it has higher rates, a bigger audience and it’s a bigger platform,” she said. Ideally, for me, that would be our biggest sport.”
The ad list sold out a month before the tournament began and included 14 sponsors and 22 advertisers. Disney Advertising’s Deidra Maddock, Vice President of Sports Brand Solutions, also reported that nearly two million brackets were filled on the ESPN Women’s Tournament Challenge page.
The first two weekends run from Friday to Monday, instead of Saturday to Tuesday, as had been the case in previous years, also helped with increases in attendance and ratings. While Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was not happy to play a regional final on Monday before playing in the final four nights later, it could have been worse if the last two regional finals were on Tuesday.
Cory Close, UCLA coach and president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, said the first two weekends are likely to run from Thursday to Sunday, similar to the men’s tournament. while the Kaplan report The men’s tournament was suggested to be played on days off, the Sunday to Wednesday model would be detrimental to the players as well as attendance and ratings.
Another idea from the report that isn’t gaining much traction is one or two networks having both men’s and women’s tournaments. The CBS/Turner deal with the men’s tournament runs until 2036 and considering the two networks should schedule 32 games a day – 16 each for men and women in the first round – this would not be possible.
CBS and Turner’s original contract with the NCAA was $10.8 billion (averaging $770 million per year) for 14 years. They signed an extension in 2016 and the average per year will reach $1.1 billion in 2025.
Wasserman’s senior vice president of properties Tag Garson said the biggest key to any upcoming rights deal is making sure it has the flexibility to adapt to the changing media landscape.
“A few years ago, there was no Paramount Plus, Disney Plus or Peacock. There is something to be said for consistency within collegiate athletics or intercollegiate athletics in an age that hasn’t been as stable until recently,” Garson said. Plus, if anyone can tell you where the media is going in the next decade, I have a bridge to sell you.”
This uncertainty is certainly a factor for the NCAA, which is under scrutiny for improving gender equality, even as it defies its vision of governing more than 1,200 member schools with nearly 500,000 athletes. replaces.,
“That’s our big quest. How do we find the best intersection between attendance, TV ratings, corporate sponsorship, student-athlete welfare and competitive equity, and where do all those circles of priorities meet?” Close asked. Happens when things should be exactly the same. But at times we want a chance to be successful in our scenario.”
More Associated Press Women’s College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https:// twitter.com/AP_Top25