ESPN, NCAA Ink New Media Rights Deal

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ESPN and the NCAA have reached a new, eight-year agreement beginning Sept. 1, 2024, for NCAA championships media rights. The deal includes domestic rights to 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. 

"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," said 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 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) β€“ 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 platforms of championships in men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball.

"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 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."

With the significant increase in value of the new agreement, NCAA members will explore revenue distribution units for the women's basketball tournament. 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," said 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.

Hillary Mandel, EVP and Head of Americas for Media at IMG, and Karen Brodkin, EVP and Co-Head of WME Sports, added: "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. 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."

New agreement extends relationship between ESPN and NCAA

The new agreement adds to the already successful offering of NCAA events on ESPN each year – a relationship that began 45 years ago in 1979, the year of ESPN's original network launch. NCAA championships will continue to benefit from the broad portfolio of ESPN platforms which includes broadcast and cable networks – ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNEWS, as well as ESPN+, the industry's leading sports streaming service. 

The agreement calls for the NCAA and ESPN to 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.

The 40 NCAA events included in ESPN's new eight-year agreement include: 

  • 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 DI Men's Basketball Championship (international rights).

    Agreement highlights:

    • Domestic rights to 40 NCAA championships, including Division I/National Collegiate championships and DII and DIII football, men's and women's basketball, and women's volleyball.
    • International rights to all NCAA Championships, including the Division I Men's Basketball Championship.
    • More than 800 hours of NCAA Championships on ESPN linear networks annually.
    • Over 2,300 total hours of NCAA Championships on ESPN linear and digital platforms each year.

    ESPN and NCAA Media Agreements Timeline

    Mar. 1, 1979

    ESPN's first NCAA agreement grants exclusive rights to live and tape delayed collegiate athletic events.

    Oct. 19, 1982

    NCAA awards ESPN 13 men's and nine women's championships each of the next two seasons, including 24 games from the National Collegiate Basketball Championship and College World Series.

    Dec. 7, 1994

    Seven-year agreement expands to 19 NCAA Championship events, including exclusive coverage of the Div. I Women's Basketball Championship on ESPN and ESPN2.

    July 5, 2001

    11-year ESPN agreement spans 21 NCAA men's and women's Championship events, including the entire 63-game NCAA Women's Basketball Championship.

    Mar. 15, 2005

    New agreement includes a minimum of 10 NCAA postseason events on ESPNU through 2013, supplementing ESPN/ESPN2.

    Dec. 15, 2011

    ESPN and the NCAA reach 14-year agreement for worldwide, multi-media rights to 24 NCAA championships and exclusive rights outside the U.S. for the NCAA Div. I Men's Basketball Championship.

    Dec. 20, 2017

    NCAA awards ESPN rights to the Women's Beach Volleyball Championship for five years (2018-22).

    Spring 2021

    ESPN adds NCAA Men's & Women's Cross Country, Women's Ice Hockey & Women's Field Hockey Championships to its existing NCAA agreement through 2023-24.

    Apr. 1, 2022

    The number of NCAA Championships on ESPN platforms climbs to 31 events as ESPN adds Women's & Men's Water Polo to its existing NCAA agreement through 2023-24.

    Jan. 4, 2024

    ESPN and NCAA Reach New, Eight-Year Media Rights Agreement covering 34 NCAA championships – 17 women's and 17 men's events – including expanded coverage of DII and DIII championships beginning Sep. 1, 2024.

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