The NCAA has agreed to extend their 14-year, $10.8 billion March Madness television contract with CBS and Turner Sports, according to multiple sources close to the process, though they caution that no announcement is imminent. The original deal, signed in 2010, lasts through the 2024 tournament. The terms of the agreement weren’t immediately available. CBS and Turner Sports declined to comment; the NCAA did not respond to a request for comment.
SportsBusiness Journal reported in December that CBS, Turner, and the NCAA were in discussions about extending the contract—possibly until 2032—as part of a contractual look-in period.
All sides have an incentive to get an extension done now, eight years before the deal expires. The NCAA has an interest in locking in a good price for the tournament before the sports-rights bubble pops, and in doing so before a player strike or successful lawsuit or unionization radically alter the college sports landscape and devalue their product. For their part, by extending now, CBS and Turner head off the possibility that a rich network like ESPN—who bid on the March Madness package in 2010 but lost out to the combined CBS/Turner bid—drives the price up or wins the package outright.
The March Madness television contract is one of the most complex in sports broadcasting. While there are other rights packages split among broadcasters—ESPN/ABC and Turner share the NBA, while Fox and NBC share NASCAR—none involve melding such substantial resources to present a single product the way the March Madness deal does. Streaming rights for March Madness are especially valuable (think of how many people are stuck in a cubicle when the tournament begins on Thursday) which complicates things, and it’s also the biggest joint agreement between a broadcast and cable network.
Turner’s TBS hosted the NCAA men’s championship game last night, the first time the title game has been broadcast on cable. The game—including the team-specific broadcasts on TNT and TruTV—drew a 10.6 rating, down 34 percent from 2015’s 16.0 rating, and 15 percent from 2014’s 12.5 rating. The title game will return to CBS next season, and will alternate every other year thereafter.