NCAA-ESPN’s new broadcast deal is great for women’s sports

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The NCAA and ESPN agreed to an eight-year, $115 million annual deal to broadcast 40 different championships including the women’s college basketball tournament.

Why did Jemele Hill leave ESPN?

This is good for a lot of reasons but the main — and most important — one, is that people are buying into the women’s sports movement. With each and every day, women’s sports come closer and closer to being equal to male sports. — especially in basketball.

Nearly 10 million viewers tuned in to see Caitlin Clark and Iowa square off against Angel Reese and LSU for a national title, making it the most-watched women’s college basketball championship game ever.

Breaking down the deal

The deal is set to start on Sept. 1 and will bring in $920 million total, three times more than what the NCAA and ESPN’s current deal is, according to Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic. It will show 40 different championships instead of the existing 29 across both men’s and women’s sports. There will be 10 more shows of additional programming, like selection shows or creating documentaries or other long-form content.

Among those championships are women’s sports like lacrosse, field hockey, cross country, fencing, ice hockey, bowling, soccer and swimming. Women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics will exclusively be aired on ABC.

Media coverage of women’s sports has risen exponentially, from five percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2022, according to Wasserman. That number is expected to hit 20 percent by 2025.

Fans also care. Back in August, 92,000 fans attended a regular season Nebraska women’s volleyball match played at Memorial Stadium, home of the Cornhuskers’ football.

NCAA President Charlie Baker explained to Thr Athletic why the org went with the World Wide Leader.

“We said from the beginning that we wanted the best deal that we could get for all of our championships,” he said. “There was a lot of informal conversation that took place with many other potential participants in this negotiation, but the one who constantly engaged and the one I would argue was the most enthusiastic in a significant way throughout the course of this was ESPN. The way they handled the negotiations demonstrated that this was really important to them, that it continued to be part of their portfolio. They will be a terrific partner, I think, going forward here.”

Could women’s college basketball have its own deal?

Women’s basketball did not get its own exclusive deal, as many thought it would. Their March Madness tournament is estimated to be valued at $65 million, more than half the whole contract. NCAA President Charlie Baker said that they will look into “rewarding” women’s basketball teams’ success in the national tournament with revenue distribution. Just like the men’s tournament rewards schools and conferences for their performance.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said in March to Just Women’s Sports “We’re at that place where we’re in high demand. I do believe women’s basketball can stand on its own and be a huge revenue-producing sport that could do, to a certain extent, what men’s basketball has done for all those other sports, all those other Olympic sports and women’s basketball. I do believe we’re at that place now. I do believe we were probably at a place years ago, but until we’re able to have the decision makers give us that opportunity… It’s slowly building up to that because there’s proof in the numbers.”

And while that makes it sound like it definitely can, the timing is the main reason why it doesn’t. Women’s sports are still growing, individual deals will come with time.

It is important to note that the ESPN package doesn’t include the men’s March Madness tournament, whose rights are owned by Paramount and Warner Brothers. Without that competition on the same network, the women’s tournament doesn’t have to fight for airtime on the same channel. It can grow independently. Being on the main ESPN channel or one of its affiliates like ABC gets you way more viewers than being on ESPN2 or ESPNU.

In the end, you’ve got to find the deal that matches your goals and objectives and not unbundle because everybody’s saying to you: ‘Unbundle! Unbundle! Hey, it’s the cool thing to do!”Hillary Mandel, the executive vice president of Endeavor’s IMG, one of the parties that negotiated the contract, said to The Athletic. “Let’s just not get lost in the sauce of that conversation.”

If it had its own deal, who knows if it would still be with ESPN. We are looking at just the March Madness tournament here, and so if the regular season is still bundled into the deal with ESPN, but the tournament is someone else, how likely is it that fans will flip to the other channel after all of the regular season being in one place? It just doesn’t seem like the right move. Let the tournament accrue fans and diehard viewers all in the same place, and then see where it goes from there. Maybe after the deal is done, the timing will be right.

We are looking at right now and long term at the same time, which is a little confusing and convoluted, but the best thing for college women’s basketball right now is to remain in the deal while it grows even larger than it is now. Long term, the best thing will be to hopefully have their own deal surrounding the regular season and the tournament. In order to get to the long-term, we need to invest heavily in the right now.

Women’s sports are growing, and it’s so exciting. Everyone should be excited about it. Girls, now more than ever, have idols they can look up to. They can watch their favorite sports and their favorite female teams in places outside of the Olympics. They can practice the skills and tricks of their favorite athletes andsee more content and read more stories about them. This media deal will give the fans more access, which will help bring sports closer to an equal playing field.

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