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NCAA, ESPN Reach Massive College Sports Media Rights Deal

The NCAA & ESPN agreed to an eight-year deal worth $115 million annually to broadcast 40 championships, including all women’s March Madness rounds.

With the College Football Playoff championship game just days away, the NCAA reached an eight-year deal with ESPN worth $115 million per year — $920 million total — to broadcast 21 men’s and 19 women’s collegiate sports championships each season, college sports’ governing body announced Thursday.

The deal, beginning on Sept. 1, encompasses every NCAA championship domestically aside from Division I football and men’s basketball.

The wild success of Division 1 women’s basketball of late, led by superstars like Caitlin Clark, Sabrina Ionescu, A’ja Wilson, and Angel Reese, sparked speculation that the NCAA would spin off the sport’s rights. Reports suggested that if the sport was sold as its own entity, college women’s basketball could garner roughly $80 million in Year 1 of a new sports media deal.

However, despite drawing 9.9 million viewers in last year’s women’s title game, ESPN and the NCAA decided to keep the annual women’s basketball tournament within this new package deal valued at $65 million per year. Keeping the burgeoning, emerging product is a significant win for ESPN, with the NCAA saying selling women’s hoops on its own this time around wasn’t feasible.

“We said from the beginning that we wanted the best deal that we could get for all of our championships,” Baker told The Athletic. “There was a lot of informal conversation that took place with many other potential participants in this negotiation, but the one who constantly engaged and the one I would argue was the most enthusiastic in a significant way throughout the course of this was ESPN. The way they handled the negotiations demonstrated that this was really important to them, that it continued to be part of their portfolio. They will be a terrific partner, I think, going forward here.”

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The current rights deal that ends this year brought in just $34 million annually. The next deal expires in 2032, the same year the D-I men’s basketball contract with Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery runs out, which pays the NCAA $900 million annually.

“ESPN and the NCAA have enjoyed a strong and collaborative relationship for more than four decades, and we are thrilled that it will continue as part of this new, long-term agreement,” Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s chairman, said. “The ESPN networks and platforms will exclusively present a record number of championships, including all rounds of several marquee events that, together with the NCAA, we have grown over time.

“This unprecedented deal also further strengthens The Walt Disney Company’s industry-leading commitment to women’s sports and will help fuel our continued growth, including in the critical streaming space.”

ESPN will broadcast all rounds of marquee events like women’s basketball, women’s gymnastics, softball, baseball, volleyball, and FCS football. The deal reportedly guarantees the women’s basketball, women’s gymnastics, and women’s volleyball title games are broadcast on ABC each year. In addition, men’s and women’s team tennis and men’s gymnastics are added to this package for the first time.

There will be more than 800 hours of NCAA championship programming per year now on ESPN linear channels, with the worldwide leader also receiving international rights for all championships.

“The NCAA has worked in earnest over the past year to ensure that this new broadcast agreement provides the best possible outcome for all NCAA championships, and in particular women’s championships,” Charlie Baker, NCAA president, said.

“Over the past several years, ESPN has demonstrated increased investment in NCAA championship coverage, and the Association is pleased to continue to provide a platform for student-athletes to shine. Having one, multi-platform home to showcase our championships provides additional growth potential along with a greater experience for the viewer and our student-athletes.”

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