After another sensational two weeks, the NCAA women’s tournament broadcast package needs to level up

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Stanford celebrates their victory while a dejected Aari McDonald of Arizona sits on the court after the Cardinals won the women’s national championship on Sunday.

Stanford celebrates their victory while a dejected Aari McDonald of Arizona sits on the court after the Cardinals won the women’s national championship on Sunday.
Image: Getty Images

When people talk about investing more resources into the women’s game, it goes far beyond any monetary value.

It includes rethinking the way women’s sports have been consumed, and how you package their unique athletic talents. Case in point, a report in Sportico details the discrepancy between how the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament is sold to media companies versus how the Men’s Basketball tournament is sold.

The men’s tournament makes over $800 million each year from the NCAA’s media rights deals with CBS and Turner alone. The NCAA has profited handsomely off the men’s tournament because it was able to find the value in selling and negotiating the event separately from many of the other sports the organization oversees. However, the women’s tournament is packaged and sold to ESPN alongside more than 20 other NCAA championships, and is allotted just 15.9 percent of the 14-year, $500 million network deal.

That ends up being around 6 million dollars a year given to the Women’s basketball tournament from the media rights deal. The problem arises when you look at some of the other sports that are packaged in the deal with ESPN. According to Sportico, the women’s championship game brought in nearly 3 times the number of viewers as the NIT tournament from 2015-2019. And in that same period of time, ratings for women’s basketball waxed those of other sports included in the package, such as wrestling, ice hockey, and lacrosse.

This detail significantly impacts the way the NCAA and everyone else should view the women’s tournament, and women’s basketball in general. The NCAA revealed last week that the women’s tournament suffered a $2.8 million loss in 2019, compared to the men’s tourney profit of $917.8 million. But when you look at how hamstrung the women’s tourney has been, by not having the ability to market itself on its own one could argue that that plays a huge role in why the Women’s tourney is operating at a deficit.

Obviously, coming out of the gate, the women’s media deal won’t be nearly as much as the men’s because of the viewership disparity. But that’s not the point. The point is that these women’s giftings are worth more than the little lazy package they are included in. The deal with ESPN runs through the 2023-2024 season.

It’s shown in the increase of viewership and in the rising popularity of the game not just on the court but off the court that the methods of how to monetize the women’s game needs to change. These college players have become cultural influencers through social media platforms and are bringing a younger generation closer to the women’s game.

Just think about if the women’s tournament could get its own media deal for about 15-20 million dollars. I’m no mathematician but I’m sure that could help make up for that $2.8 million dollar loss.

The time has come for the women’s game to start benefiting from out-of-the-box thinking and innovative monetization to push the game forward. The game has outgrown its current model which means it’s time to reinvent.

If the NCAA negotiated its own media rights deal independently for the women’s tournament, it would be a huge beginning step.

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