wealth distribution

NCAA Bullish On Change For Women’s Basketball Tournament Revenue And Distribution

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One year after the inequities between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments dominated the headlines during March Madness, NCAA President Mark Emmert addressed changes that might come in the future from the site of the women’s Final Four in Minneapolis today.

Most notably, Emmert said there has been progress and that “preliminary discussions” have begun about distributing tournament revenue to women’s programs.

Currently, the women’s basketball tournament is part of a television package that includes 28 other championships and pays out a mere $34 million a year.

Meanwhile, the NCAA’s deal with CBS and Turner for the men’s tournament that started at an average of $770 million per year with a 2016 extension that will bring that per-year average to $1.1 billion in 2025.

Conferences earn a unit—valued this year at $338,210.96—for each tournament game one of their men’s teams plays in, with the exception of the championship game. The money goes to each team’s conference paid out on a six-year rolling basis. Conferences receive nothing based on the performance of its women’s teams.

The contract that includes the women’s tournament is up in 2024, giving the NCAA an opportunity to shop those rights independent of other sports.

“We realize … those rights are likely undervalued and quite possibly significantly undervalued,” NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said at a media briefing.

The Kaplan report found women’s basketball should be capable of landing a new contract that pays $81 million to $112 million annually.

Adopting a new system that distributes women’s tournament money to schools is something Emmert said won’t necessarily happen quickly and will require approval from several NCAA committees.

“There’s really only just preliminary discussions about it,” he said. “I would hope those are decisions that can be made within the next calendar year, for example. If by this time next year there’s some notion of a direction to go in, that would be great.”

“There’s no reason why they couldn’t start that debate and that discussion,” Emmert said. “But it is a very challenging debate among the schools. Once you start talking about how you’re going to divide resources, then those are difficult.”

For the first time this year, the women’s field was the same size as the men at 68 teams and gets to share the “March Madness” branding. The women are also getting their own players’ lounge at each hotel, something men’s teams have had for years. Everything from the fan experience to the logo on the court and even weight rooms have been equalized.

The women also received the same tournament gifts as the men this year, something that was a glaring difference last year.

Gavitt declined to disclose the investment the NCAA had to make to close the gap between the men’s and women’s tournaments. The closest he came to revealing the number was to say “it’s in the millions of dollars.”

ESPN’s rating for women’s regular season games this year was up 46% according to the president of women’s basketball Lynn Holzman.

“The attendance for the rounds leading up to the women’s Final Four, we have set records with those,” Holzman said. “The ratings by our ESPN broadcast partner also have set records, but all of that is a testament to women’s basketball, the leadership that occurs on campus with our coaches, the administration, and most importantly, our student-athletes.”

Earlier this week, the NC State vs. UConn WBB Elite Eight game drew two million viewers on ESPN, making it the most-watched game of the 2022 women’s tournament and also the highest Elite Eight audience since 2006. Viewership is up 11% on ESPN networks since the beginning of the tournament, with the Elite Eight round averaging 1.5M viewers, which represents an increase of 29% from last year.

Women’s college basketball has done everything it can to put the NCAA in a place of strength when it comes time to negotiate a new television contract. Now the ball is in the NCAA’s court.

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