The NCAA and ESPN are going to be partners for a long time.
The organization behind college sports struck a new 8-year deal with ESPN that keeps a vast majority of its games on the sports network and ABC. NCAA President Charlie Baker told the Associated Press that the deal has an average annual value of $115 million, representing an increase of more than 300% over the previous 14-year deal with the network.
The agreement covers 21 women’s events — including women’s basketball — and 19 men’s events, and will include expanded coverage of Division II and III championships. ESPN will get exclusive championship coverage of all rounds for women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, women’s gymnastics, softball, baseball, and the second tier of men’s football called FCS football.
A notable exception is the NCAA Men’s Division 1 basketball championship — March Madness — which airs on CBS and Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT and TBS. The deal does give ESPN international rights to the tournament, as well as all of the other events.
The deal comes as demand for sports content has exploded, with interest from streaming services leading to rich deals struck by the likes of Big Tech players like Amazon and Apple, driving up the cost to carry the games. ESPN plans to offer these games on its own ESPN+ service, and the programming will likely play a big role in its future ESPN standalone streaming option.
“his 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,” ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement.
Baker told the AP that nearly 60% of the deal is tied to the women’s March Madness tournament, underscoring the growth in popularity for the event. The AP noted that last year’s title game drew 10 million viewers, and has been a consistent ratings hit over the last few years.
“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,” Baker said in a statement.