ESPN Inks Eight-Year, $920M Rights Deal for 40 NCAA Championships, Including Women’s Final Four

ESPN will reportedly also cover productions and marketing costs on top of the $115 annual value

ESPN and the NCAA have reached a new, eight-year domestic media rights agreement for a record 40 NCAA championships – 21 women’s and 19 men’s events – and international rights to those same NCAA championships plus the Division I men’s basketball tournament. The eight-year deal begins in September and is reportedly worth $920 million (an average of $115 million annually), an increase of more than 300% per year over ESPN’s previous 14-year deal. SportsBusiness Journal also reports that production and marketing costs assumed by ESPN will be around 25% more on top of that annual value.

The agreement continues exclusive coverage of sports included in the previous ESPN agreement – including all rounds of marquee NCAA Championship events (women’s basketball, softball, volleyball, gymnastics, baseball, FCS football, and more) – and adds coverage of the Division I men’s and women’s tennis team championships and the national collegiate men’s gymnastics championship. It also includes full rights for the men’s National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament (WBIT), as well as international rights for the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Division II and Division III also add coverage on ESPN platform of championships in men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.

ESPN, NCAA Chart Course for the Future

“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,” says ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. “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.”

“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,” says Charlie Baker, NCAA president. “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.”

The new deal runs through 2032 – the same year that the current domestic rights deal with CBS and Warner Bros. Discovery expires for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, potentially providing the NCAA more flexibility in its next round of negotiations. As for ESPN, the network’s college sports ambitions now focus on the College Football Playoff, with its current deal ending after the 2025 season.

Women’s Tournament Looms Large in Value of Deal

Baker told SBJ that the NCAA valued the women’s basketball rights specifically at around $65 million annually, or roughly 56% of the media rights portion of the deal. Even though the NCCA opted to keep the championships under one banner similar to the previous deal, the significant increase in value of the new agreement means NCAA members will explore revenue distribution units for the women’s basketball tournament. According to the NCAA’s announcement, the Division I Board of Directors Finance committee began discussion of revenue distribution philosophies and new models this year, and those discussions will continue with membership in the coming year.

“Finalizing this agreement ushers in yet another milestone for the NCAA positioning student-athletes first,” says Linda Livingstone, chair of the NCAA Board of Governors and Baylor University president. “Concurrent with the terms of the new media rights, several enhancements to student-athlete benefits across all three NCAA divisions will take effect, and this deal will help fund those important programs. And the national, integrated platform the family of ESPN networks provides will help grow the visibility of many NCAA sports, particularly for our women student-athletes.” 

Endeavor’s IMG and WME Sports served as the media advisor to the NCAA for the media rights negotiations. According to Hillary Mandel, EVP and Head of Americas for Media at IMG, and Karen Brodkin, EVP and Co-Head of WME Sports, providing greater exposure for women’s sports was a key focus throughout the negotiations.

“This groundbreaking new ESPN deal guarantees the NCAA significant increases in rights fees, investment in production and promotion, original content and storytelling, and multi-platform viewership options with a partner that has proven integral to the growth of its championships and women’s sports,” says Mandel and Brodkin. “Critically, it provides greater exposure for student-athletes across a record number of championships and capitalizes on the growing interest and fandom of women’s sports, which was a key focus throughout our in-depth evaluation and advisory work with the NCAA.”

Breaking Down the Eight-Year Deal

  • Men’s Championships – soccer, football (FCS, DII & DIII), cross country, water polo, indoor track & field, swimming & diving, wrestling, ice hockey, gymnastics, fencing, volleyball, lacrosse, outdoor track & field, tennis, baseball and basketball (including DII semifinals & DIII semifinals and championship).
  • Women’s Championships – soccer, field hockey, volleyball (including DII & DIII), cross country, indoor track & field, swimming & diving, basketball (including DII & DIII), ice hockey, bowling, gymnastics, fencing, beach volleyball, lacrosse, outdoor track & field, tennis, softball, and water polo.
  • Also: men’s National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament (WBIT); NCAA Div I Men’s Basketball Championship (international rights).  

The agreement continues a 45-year relationship that dates back to 1979 between the NCAA and ESPN, which will work together to maximize exposure opportunities on ABC and ESPN throughout the term. The national championship game in Division I women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, women’s gymnastics, and the Football Championship Subdivision are guaranteed to air on ABC each year, with additional ABC exposure guaranteed within the overall softball and baseball championships as well. The agreement also includes a guarantee that at least 10 of the championships will have selections shows distributed on linear ESPN networks.

Select rounds of NCAA championships will be exclusively available on ESPN+, which includes 24,000 college games each year spanning more than 20 conferences, effectively linking regular season and championship viewing for fans. Launched in April 2018, ESPN+ has grown quickly to more than 25 million subscribers, offering fans thousands of live events, original programming, and premium editorial content.

In total, more than 2,300 hours of championships will be presented on ESPN’s linear and digital platforms annually, with more than 800 hours of NCAA championships on ESPN linear networks each year. The agreement also includes enhanced broadcast sponsorship and footage rights for ESPN across its full portfolio of championships and platforms.

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