By Samrhitha A and Jaspreet Singh
(Reuters) -ESPN and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have agreed to a $920 million, eight-year extension to their media rights deal that covers 40 championships including international rights to the “March Madness” college basketball tournament.
The deal has an annual average value of $115 million, which more than triples the amount ESPN paid on average each year to the association under the previous 14-year agreement, the NCAA said.
The agreement deepens ESPN’s commitment to college sports, which have been part of the network’s DNA since its launch in 1979. The new NCAA deal includes domestic rights to 21 women’s and 19 men’s championship events, including the high-profile women’s basketball championship game, which last year drew 9.9 million viewers. It adds coverage of Division I men’s and women’s tennis team championships and the collegiate men’s gymnastic championship.
In total, the deal encompasses 24,000 college games spanning more than 20 conferences – enough to provide content across a portfolio of media properties, including the ABC network, ESPN and the ESPN+ streaming service.
Live sports have proven a resilient audience draw, even at a time when television audiences are shrinking. In October, ESPN clinched the U.S. broadcast rights for TGL – a new prime-time golf league created by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
The new NCAA agreement expands ESPN’s digital rights, setting the stage for the network’s eventual transition to streaming. Disney has said it is seeking minority partners, as the marquee sports network makes its digital leap.
“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,” said NCAA President Charlie Baker.
With the increase in value of the agreement, the association will explore revenue distribution units for the women’s basketball tournament, the NCAA said.
The tie-up between the association and ESPN began in 1979, the year of ESPN’s original network launch.
(Reporting by Samrhitha Arunasalam and Jaspreet Singh in Bengaluru, and Dawn Chmielewski in Los Angeles; Editing by Pooja Desai and Nick Zieminski)