So why’d ESPN not get The Tournament?
We knew ESPN lost/backed out in the bidding for the rights to broadcast The Tournament last week.
But why’d it happen? Was it a case of two being stronger than one? ESPN is the richest, most powerful sports network on the planet, and for it to lose out the way it did — it just didn’t feel right. ESPN has “won” in a sense in that, when you think college basketball, the Four-Letter is just as synonymous with the sport as CBS, despite the fact CBS airs games prior to The Tournament. If it really wanted this thing, don’t you believe it would have gotten it?
Yesterday, when it became official that CBS and Turner had gotten the rights for The Tourney until 2024, ESPN put out this succinct release.
We made an aggressive bid and believe our combination of TV distribution, digital capabilities, season-long coverage and year-round marketing would have served the interests of the NCAA and college fans very well. We remain committed to our unparalleled coverage of more than 1,200 men’s and women’s college basketball games each season.
Not to get all Mike Florio on you here, but having spoken with a few people, the feeling is that ESPN is much more focused on obtaining two other broadcast rights and didn’t want to stretch itself thin. With the Olympics and the NFL deals on the horizon, throwing down billions for this became less desirable — especially after it became known earlier this week that 68 teams was the likely model and that the regular season’s relavence would be salvaged.
So with a regular season that still carries weight, ESPN can maintain its 1,200 games and keep ad rates high. That’s a big factor. As for the NFL and the Olympics, while it’s unlikely the Juggernaut will be able to pry Sunday games away from FOX and CBS in the next decade, it’s NFL deal is up for renewal soon, and that’s going to cost a pretty penny with the ever-inflatable, seperate economy the NFL is working in. With a looming work stoppage in the NFL, we’ll see how that all works itself out, but expect more people to write about ESPN’s business play with Goodell and Co. in the coming months.
The Olympics? Well, the last time it got a bidder, NBC, a $2.2 billion deal was involved. Many believe (and as a reminder, this belief comes with a similar tone to what I heard about going to 96 teams) ESPN is chasing hard for the Olympics and wants to take it away from network television for the first time in its broadcast history. Although NBC lost considerable money on the Olympics, many believe that won’t bring the price tag down too much when the broadcast rights are negotiated upon for the Games at the end of this decade.
ESPN loses out, many are happy because that means Vitale won’t be anywhere near the greatest postseason in American sports, and our college basketball season will remain, mostly, the same.
Always interesting to see how close we can come to seeing something changed so drastically. Imagine if ESPN won the rights to this. College basketball would have lived only on that network. There’d be no incentive for CBS to air any games, and that means we’d lose Gus Johnson, perhaps forever, on play-by-play for The Tournament and the sport in general.
Yet another real tragedy that was avoided.