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Volume 21 No. 1


The NCAA quietly is talking to CBS Sports and Turner Sports about their 14-year, $10.8 billion March Madness contract, even though the deal runs through the 2024 tournament, according to several sources.

The discussions, which involve CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, TBS President David Levy and NCAA senior leadership, have focused on extending the current deal, which originally took effect in 2011, by as much as eight more years, sources said.

The contract for the NCAA men’s basketball tourney began in 2011 and runs through 2024.
These talks, also known as contractual “look-ins,” are part of the NCAA’s media contracts with CBS/Turner and separately with ESPN for its other championships. Sources cautioned that the look-in does not mean an extension or a new contract is imminent.

While some of the negotiations have looked into potentially extending the contract, the two sides also are looking into other deal points, such as new technology advances and marketing rights.

CBS, Turner and the NCAA all declined to comment for this story.

One benefit of a longer deal is the opportunity for the NCAA to generate additional revenue. The current deal averages $771 million per year without the standard built-in annual increases found in most media deals, sources said.

The $10.8 billion deal was negotiated in 2010 and marked around a 60 percent increase over the previous NCAA tournament deal.

CBS and Turner like the idea of extending the tournament deal early, as it would keep a popular sports media property from hitting the open market until, potentially, 2032. Both CBS and Turner are happy with their partnership around the NCAA tournament and are interested in extending the deal, sources said.

The NCAA negotiated two look-ins into the CBS/Turner contract because of the deal’s length. This is the first look-in; another is scheduled five years from now. As one official said, “A lot can change in five years.”

Turner’s David Levy and CBS’s Sean McManus discuss the original deal in 2010.
The NCAA recently used a similar look-in clause with its other media partner, ESPN, which holds the rights to the NCAA’s other championships, such as FCS football, softball and baseball. That look-in recently concluded without a new deal or an extension, as both sides agreed to keep their deal intact.

NCAA officials and Turner/CBS have been in this current look-in period for about two to three weeks, and there is no hard deadline to make any decisions.

The original deal, signed in the spring of 2010, was unique in sports TV history. Two competing media companies — CBS and Turner — agreed to team up and jointly produce the tournament across four networks: CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. A truTV telecast would look the same as a CBS one — same music, same graphics, etc. CBS and Turner mixed on-air talent in the studio and at game sites.

For viewers, the transition seemed flawless.

Last year, Turner carried the Final Four — the first time the tournament’s semifinals were carried on cable — and produced gaudy results: The two 2015 Final Four games televised on TBS, along with an Elite Eight game on the channel, were the most-viewed non-football sports programs on cable TV for the year. Meanwhile, the Duke-Wisconsin championship game on CBS was the most-viewed non-football sports program on network TV, generating 28.3 million viewers.

In 2016, Turner will carry both the Final Four and the championship game — another first for cable television. CBS and Turner will alternate in ensuing years.

History of March Madness media rights
The NCAA and CBS began a relationship in 1982 with the first of what would be three consecutive three-year media rights deals, through the tournament that was played in spring 1990. Since then:

CBS Sports begins a new seven-year contract for $1 billion, which includes live coverage of all sessions of the NCAA tournament through 1997.

The existing CBS contract is replaced with a new agreement for $1.725 billion, extending for five years through the 2002 tournament.

A new 11-year agreement, commencing with the 2003 championship, is signed. The agreement, for a minimum of $6 billion, includes rights to television (over-the-air, cable, satellite, digital and home video), marketing, game programs, radio, Internet, fan festivals and licensing (excluding concessionaire agreements).

The NCAA exercises a clause to opt out of the deal in order to sign a new 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting through the 2024 tournament. The television, Internet and wireless rights agreement calls for CBS and Turner to collaborate on the NCAA’s corporate marketing program. All tournament games will be shown live across the country (on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV), which is a first in the championship’s history. The agreement also involves expanding the tournament to 68 teams.

Fox Sports has rebranded StraightCast Media, the mobile video platform it acquired this past summer, as Fox Sports PROcast, and is now leveraging the technology for basketball, soccer and mixed martial arts after first using it in football.

Fox Sports PROcast is used to capture behind-the-scenes video and other exclusive content designed to show pro athletes in a more natural element, such as in their homes and on team planes. The videos have been used across Fox’s media assets, including pregame TV shows, online and through the network’s mobile outlets, and Fox Sports recently signed advertising deals with Travelers Insurance and Reebok for PROcast content.

Fox Sports PROcast went inside the Portland Timbers’ victory parade with Nat Borchers.
A recent video showing the Carolina Panthers celebrating on the team plane after their 11th victory without a loss this season became the first Fox Sports PROcast video to generate 1 million views.

The rise of Fox Sports PROcast follows growth this year for other player-centric digital media outlets such as The Players’ Tribune and Uninterrupted, the venture involving LeBron James’ LRMR and Time Warner. But unlike those efforts, which have been positioned as singular destinations even amid Uninterrupted’s collaboration with Bleacher Report, Fox PROcast has been fully integrated into network operations.

“This has been a real partnership,” said Jeb Terry, a former NFL lineman who co-founded StraightCast Media in 2010 and has since joined Fox Sports as vice president of program development. “We’re not after the gotcha moment, but the players. But we are able to tell the entire story, not just what somebody sees in a press conference, and there has been a real appetite for this kind of content.”

Recent extensions for Fox Sports PROcast media into other sports include content with MMA fighter Jeremy Stephens before this past weekend’s UFC 194 event in Las Vegas.

NBC has renewed the summer horse racing television series it produces in partnership with the Breeders’ Cup for the next three years, after a year in which the sport enjoyed record ratings on the network.

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed. “It is not a time buy,” said Jon Miller, NBC Sports Group’s president of programming. “It’s more of a joint venture between us and the Breeders’ Cup.”

Next year, the series, “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In,” will be presented by America’s Best Racing and Lane’s End Farm, and will consist of nine telecasts on NBC and NBCSN. It will feature race horses competing for berths in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup championship races.

The challenge series will run from June 11 through Oct. 9 and feature stakes races from six racetracks around the U.S. The Breeders’ Cup will be held Nov. 4-5 at Santa Anita Park in the Los Angeles area.

“It’s excellent summer programming for us; it fills a nice spot on the schedule,” Miller said. “It goes between the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup. We have now made horse racing a nine-month property, from March to November.”

The three-year deal is the longest commitment NBC has ever made to the series, which it broadcast in 2014 and 2015.

This year, viewership for the series averaged 936,000, up 136 percent over 2014, and that had a lot to do with NBC’s increased commitment, Miller said. “If you look at other properties in the third quarter, which is where this Challenge Series runs, to find a property increasing by that amount is very rare,” Miller said.

The series was conceived, in part, to keep fans engaged in horse racing between the Triple Crown, which ends in June, and the Breeders’ Cup, which is run in late October or early November. This year, the Breeders’ Cup television ratings were the highest in 20 years, as 4.6 million people tuned in.

The presence of American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, boosted the ratings for the Breeders’ Cup and the Challenge Series. Pharoah won one of the races in the series, the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, and lost another, The Travers at Saratoga. The racehorse ended his career by romping in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

NBC has long-term deals with all three Triple Crown races as well as the Breeders’ Cup, and Miller wants to keep the momentum going. American Pharoah helped the Breeders’ Cup ratings, but so did the Challenge Series, Miller said.

“It showcased a lot of horses,” he said.

Peter Rotondo, Breeders’ Cup vice president of media and entertainment, said the event will work with NBC on a host of new television and digital initiatives to cultivate new fans and drive viewership for the series. “Over the past two years, the series has allowed us to increase our reach, boost our sponsor roster and extend our brand and season from two days to six months,” Rotondo said. “We’re thrilled to renew our deal with NBC Sports.”

If 2015 was the year that digital media companies started dabbling with major sports media rights, 2016 will be the year when they put more financial muscle behind it. The growth plans of companies like Google/YouTube, Apple and Yahoo will involve sports and will give 2016’s rights negotiations a unique flavor.

Here’s how I see the year unfolding from a sports media perspective.

CBS will renew the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” package with another short-term deal.

Prediction: The NFL will do another one-year deal with CBS for Thursday night games.
Photo by: JOHN FILO / CBS
Popular opinion is that the NFL will cash out with a long-term deal that syncs “Thursday Night Football” with the league’s other TV packages. But several great sources are telling me that the NFL is more comfortable doing another one-year deal with a one-year option for a modest price increase. The main reason: The NFL’s top brass are focused on other big initiatives, like the pending Los Angeles move and concussion issues.

The NFL is happy with CBS, and CBS is happy with the package. CBS and NFL Network will continue to carry eight games each, though they will not be divided into a first-half package (CBS) and a second-half one (NFL Network). The networks will alternate throughout the season. CBS will continue to produce all the games, and NFL Network will continue to simulcast the games that are on CBS.

Google/YouTube will grab a piece of the Thursday night package.

Another reason why the NFL is looking to do a short-term deal with the Thursday night package is to generate more interest from digital media companies. Sources say the league is kicking around the idea of having a digital media company live-stream the Thursday night package on a nonexclusive basis. My bet is that Google/YouTube steps up with a deal to stream these games. Expect a who’s who of Silicon Valley to show interest, as the league cultivates new companies to keep the bidding for its media rights high.

Apple will pick up a multigame NFL package.

The NFL is happy with the performance of the October game from London that Yahoo streamed exclusively this fall. Early in 2016, the league will package all three London games and shop them to digital media companies. Look for Google and Yahoo to show interest. Amazon and Netflix will kick the tires. But Apple will pick up the rights.

ESPN will lose 4 million more subscribers.

Cord cutting and cord shaving is accelerating, and ESPN, again, will feel the brunt of it. The network’s subscriber losses have increased each year since 2012, as distributors’ skinny bundles become more popular. ESPN lost 3.1 million subscribers last year, 2.1 million in 2014 and 1.6 million in 2013, according to Nielsen estimates. Expect the network to drop under 90 million subscribers for the first time since 2005.

ESPN will not launch a direct-to-consumer service.

One of the big selling points of ESPN’s NBA deal was the bundle of over-the-top rights Bristol picked up. Even though its new NBA deal is about to kick in next year, don’t expect ESPN to launch any kind of over-the-top service around it.

Comcast-YES Network fight will go beyond Opening Day.

Comcast and YES will get a deal done, but not in time for the Yankees’ Opening Day. Comcast’s move to drop YES Network illustrates the turbulent times that are ahead for regional sports networks. Like ESPN, RSNs this year will see their subscriber base drop significantly. The high-priced channels will struggle to stay on basic tiers, and every distributor renewal will be a fight.

Fox will do a deal with the Clippers.
Despite its threats to launch its own service, the Clippers will cut a traditional RSN deal with Fox Sports. The deal, though, will allow the Clippers to pursue second-screen applications around the games, like individualized camera feeds and up-to-the-minute statistics.

NFL ad sales will drop for all TV networks.

Broadcast networks will have a hard time selling the NFL next season, as daily fantasy operators DraftKings and FanDuel slow their ad spending significantly. NFL ratings will remain high, but look for the network ad sales business to drop by a single-digit percentage.

Out-of-market will go a la carte.

NBA’s League Pass already has a $6.99 price tag for viewers who want to watch individual games. Other sports will follow (notably, not the NFL), and OTT systems will play a big role in this.

IMG and CAA will be beneficiaries of the FIFA issues.

International groups like FIFA will need to use third parties to bid out rights professionally to show arm’s-length impartiality, which will be a boon for IMG and CAA, specifically.

ESPN, Fox, NBC will invest in e-sports.

Prediction: E-sports will gain new network fans after Turner’s league succeeds.
Turner’s strategy of starting and televising its own league will turn out to be successful. Look for others to follow. ESPN, Fox and NBC are looking into the space, and one of them will make a splash early in the year. It’s not just the TV networks. Every American arena operator will be looking to e-sports as the newest must-have property.

Ratings bets

The Rio Games will become the most-watched Olympics ever. Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin will give NBC a returning cast of known stars. Rio will provide a great backdrop for the competitive drama. And more live, prime-time events will boost NBC’s ratings. … NBC Sports Network will post its best ratings ever thanks to having both the Olympics and NASCAR in the same year for the first time. … The college playoffs will see a major dip in viewership on New Year’s Eve, which will lead to lower ratings for 2016’s championship game. I still expect both games to eclipse 25 million viewers, which will be high enough that more games will be scheduled for New Year’s Eve. … PGA Tour ratings and golf’s majors will continue to improve with popular young stars like Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy battling it out every week. It’s the first time in years that the golf world will be optimistic about its post-Tiger Woods world.


The NHL will not replace outgoing COO John Collins. … NBC Sports Group will not replace outgoing President Jon Litner. … Fox will make runs at both Michelle Beadle and Skip Bayless. Both will stay at ESPN. … Keith Olbermann will return to MSNBC for the run-up to the election.

John Ourand can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.