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Volume 22 No. 23
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NCAA, CBS and Turner talk of extending deal

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.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
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.
Photo by: SHANA WITTENWYLER
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:

1991
CBS Sports begins a new seven-year contract for $1 billion, which includes live coverage of all sessions of the NCAA tournament through 1997.

1995
The existing CBS contract is replaced with a new agreement for $1.725 billion, extending for five years through the 2002 tournament.

1999
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).

2010
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.