ESPN has been a big player in the US sports broadcasting market, the company not only is one of the biggest broadcasters of leagues such as NBA, NFL etc. but it also covers numerous college championships of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) following a deal made in 2011.
The NCAA package equates to over 600 hours of coverage annually across a variety of ESPN platforms, including its dedicated college channel ESPNU.
Since 2011, women's leagues have seen dramatic changes in their viewership and popularity. In the deal, the network pays US$34 million a year to show about 20 women's NCAA sports, including basketball.
However, the statistics have taken a turn for the better towards the end of the deal. Earlier this year, a record 9.9 million viewers watched Louisiana State University (LSU) win the women’s March Madness final on ABC.
A report commissioned by the NCAA in 2021 suggested that basketball tournament rights alone could be worth about US$100 million a year. With such good numbers, the deals seem to be unfair at this point. And as the deal is set to expire in 2023-2024, NCAA plans to bring better-negotiated deals to the table for the season.
This season brought drastic viewership as it was the most-viewed ESPN network season in eight years, a total of 11 per cent more than the previous season. The NCAA tournament’s first round this season saw a 27 per cent ratings increase from last year.
And last year’s title game, matching South Carolina and UConn, averaged 4.85 million viewers, the most for a women’s title game since 2004.
The picture has become so big that the idea of unbundling women's basketball has crossed many minds. When asked if the NCAA should unbundle the rights, Neal Pilson, the former longtime CBS Sports president, said,
“Yes, absolutely. It has grown dramatically in stature. For a long time, it was bundled because no one was really sure it could stand on its own. And no one wanted to take that risk of going into the marketplace and not having a competitive situation. You look at all the markers now: attendance, ratings, sponsor commitments. You talk about the growth of women’s sports – the best indicator, in my judgment, is not women’s soccer. It’s women’s basketball.”
Different views, and different plans, but all questions would be answered in the leap of time
Till then, stick around for more Sports Streams News from Sporticos.