ESPN and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has reached an eight-year agreement beginning in September. 

The deal for NCAA championships media rights includes domestic broadcasts for a record 40 NCAA championships – 21 women’s and 19 men’s events – and international rights to those same championships, including the Division I men’s basketball tournament.

ESPN and the NCAA have worked together for 45 years since 1979, the year that ESPN’s original network launched with the new deal beginning on 1 September. 

ESPN Chairman, Jimmy Pitaro stated: “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.”

One aim for the new agreement is to maximise exposure opportunities for ABC and ESPN. 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 softball and baseball championships as well. 

Pitaro added: “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 coverage of sports included in the previous ESPN agreement will be continued, including all rounds of marquee NCAA Championship events. However, coverage of the Division I men’s and women’s tennis team championships and the national collegiate men’s gymnastics championship will be added to in the new deal. 

NCAA President, Charlie Baker said: “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.

Earlier this year, Baker feared over the legalisation of prop bets for college sporting fixtures added: “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.”

ESPN’s agreement 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’s platforms of championships in men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.

Linda Livingstone, Chair of the NCAA Board of Governors and Baylor University President, commented: “Finalising this agreement ushers in yet another milestone for the NCAA positioning student-athletes first. 

“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 between the two parties. 

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 capitalises 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.”

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