John Ourand & Michael Smith of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL report today:
ESPN has told the NCAA that it will not increase its bid to obtain the NCAA men’s basketball tournament rights, clearing the way for CBS and Turner to share the rights starting next year, according to sources with direct knowledge of the talks.
As I’ve written previously here, I fully expected CBS to outbid ESPN for the broadcast rights to March Madness, and apparently Turner has partnered with CBS to help up that bid on what will reportedly be a 14-year broadcast rights deal worth $710M annually.
From shortly after the time I first reported on Feb. 1 that the NCAA would expand to 96 teams, NCAA Senior VP/Basketball & Business Strategies Greg Shaheen has denied that a plan was in place to expand the tournament by 32 teams. He did the same in SBJ’s report:
“There is no agreement with any party. In fact, discussions/negotiations are ongoing with multiple parties. No final decisions have been made and as such, no agreements have been made.”
Though Ourand and Smith of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL noted that, “if Turner joins CBS as a partner, it almost certainly means that the tournament would be expanded to 96 teams, sources said.”
SBJ also reported that if the CBS-Turner deal happens, Turner and CBS would carry the Final Four in alternate years and tourney games would be seen on “at least” CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV.
The CBS-Turner thing makes the most sense for the NCAA so long as ESPN remains heavily involved in broadcasting regular season games. In order to maintain the perception that the regular season still matters, it’s critical to have ESPN flogging the importance of the games on SportsCenter and its daily talk shows.
Because of ESPN’s monopoly on widely-distributed, daily sports television content, Bristol’s influence is critical to the future fortunes of NCAA basketball’s regular season Having ESPN involved in the post season, thanks to the gambling aspect of the tournament, is not nearly as important.
The final decision on all of this will likely be on April 29 at the NCAA Board of Directors meeting in Indianapolis.