Turner Broadcasting and CBS partner on $10.8-billion NCAA deal
First Conan O'Brien, now the NCAA.
Turner Broadcasting is teaming up with CBS in a 14-year, $10.8-billion deal for television and Internet rights to the immensely popular NCAA college basketball tournament. The deal, which goes into effect starting with next year's tournament, will ultimately see the widely watched Final Four and the NCAA championship make its debut on cable television.
CBS' current contract with the NCAA was set to run for to 2014. However, it had a window in it after this year's championship for the NCAA to look for a new deal. CBS welcomed that window. Although the NCAA tournament continues to provide solid ratings for CBS -- this year's championship between Duke and Butler had its biggest audience in over 10 years -- the network's current $6-billion deal was going to skyrocket in costs starting next year.
The new deal "puts CBS on solid financial footing for lasting profitability," said CBS Sports President Sean McManus. If a new pact had not been struck, it would have been "very challenging" for CBS, he said.
"This is a landmark deal for Turner Broadcasting," said Turner Sports President David Levy. "We will provide unprecedented access to the tournament for the viewers."
CBS and Turner had to beat back an aggressive bid for the NCAA tournament from Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN.
Turner will spread its coverage across its cable channels TBS, TNT and TruTV. By doing that, not only can the cable programmer offer every game in the tournament, it will also be able to try to get cable and satellite distributors to pay more to carry its cable networks.
For the first five years of the deal, TBS will carry first- and second-round games of the tournament, but in 2016 TBS will start to alternate coverage of the Final Four weekend and the championship game with CBS.
The partnership between Turner and CBS is yet another sign that professional sports may eventually become too expensive for broadcast television. While all professional sports have very strong presences on cable, it is rare that a major championship game for a marquee sport is on cable.
"It was a necessary component to getting this deal done," McManus said of the championship game appearing on cable television.
There had been speculation that the NCAA would expand the number of teams that participate in the tournament from 65 to 96. Instead, it is boosting the size to just 68 teams. The NCAA said there are no immediate plans to ultimately go to 96 teams, and the deal is not dependent on such an expansion.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Duke celebrates. Credit: Andy Lyons / Getty Images.