SBJ/20100201/This Week's News

CBS-Turner bid possible for NCAA tourney

CBS and Turner Sports are in discussions to create a joint bid for the NCAA tournament rights if the NCAA decides to opt out of its current CBS deal.

The broadcaster and cable network could share rights to the tournament if the NCAA decides to expand the field to 96 teams. In that scenario, the channel broadcasting the Final Four would pay 60 percent of the annual rights fee and the other network would pay 40 percent. The broadcast partners would alternate coverage of the Final Four each year.

Other networks, including ESPN and Fox, also are considering making bids for the tournament’s rights.

The broadcasters are basing their bids on an expanded tournament field, according to a request for proposal issued by the NCAA to potential bidders late last year. A copy of the RFP was obtained by SportsBusiness Journal.

The NCAA has its sights set on expanding from a 65-team tournament to either 68 or 96 teams if it opts out of the CBS contract, according to the 12-page RFP.

A 68-team field would add three “play-in” games to the current 65-team format, and a 96-team field would expand the tournament’s inventory by 31 games.

The NCAA also says it is looking for a 14-year term on its next media deal, with a “no-penalty, early termination right in favor of the NCAA,” according to the RFP.

The NCAA is considering whether to opt out of its 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS after the Final Four in April. The deal has three years and $2.131 billion remaining.

Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s senior vice president for basketball and business strategies, is leading the RFP process.

“There continues to be dialogue with a number of entities that are interested in submitting a proposal,” he said, but no time frame has been established. Shaheen has said that the NCAA is doing due diligence to explore alternative tournament formats, but it is not leaning in any direction.

However, industry sources indicated that the NCAA has until Aug. 31 to exercise its right, though it hopes to conclude the process much earlier.

The NCAA could keep its current deal; make a new deal with its longtime broadcast partner, CBS; make a new deal with a new partner; or create a split rights agreement. In the split-rights deal, two broadcasters would submit a joint proposal to share the media rights.

In the RFP, the NCAA outlines two 96-team split formats that have an over-the-air partner teaming with a cable partner.

In one scenario in which the over-the-air partner has the Final Four, it would carry 41 games while the cable partner carries 54. When the cable partner has the Final Four, 57 games would appear on cable and 38 on over-the-air.

In those split-rights scenarios, the two broadcast partners would alternate carriage of the Final Four. The broadcaster with the Final Four would pay 60 percent of the rights fee that year and the other broadcaster would pay 40 percent.

Also included in the RFP are the rights to the NCAA’s other championships, including the women’s basketball tournament, the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and baseball; the corporate sponsorship program; and Internet and mobile rights.

Turner’s interest in acquiring the tournament has not been disclosed before. TNT has carried NBA games since 1988 but has never carried college basketball games.

“The NCAA tournament is a strong property that would fit our brands but, as with any sports rights, an acquisition must make economic sense for our company,” a Turner spokesman said.

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