Why is the NCAA Basketball National Championship on TBS?

Tonight, Villanova and North Carolina will face off for the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship – but you won’t see it on CBS. For the first time ever, college basketball will crown its national champion on cable, with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill calling the action on TBS (and slanted “team stream” coverage of each team on TNT and truTV). How did this happen? Why was the NCAA willing and able to take the smaller audience of cable? Well, I gave the short answer in my book, The Game to Show the Games:

By 2010 CBS wanted to get out from under a contract to air the NCAA Tournament that was set to lose it considerable amounts of money each year, to the point of engaging in talks to get ESPN to take it off its hands. Certainly the NCAA was very interested in moving most of the tournament to cable, which not only had the potential to increase the rights fees the NCAA collected but also allowed every game to be shown nationally, without the regionalization CBS had engaged in. CBS ended up retaining the tournament by forming an alliance with Turner to show games on TBS, TNT, and truTV in addition to the CBS broadcast network. Turner had never shown college basketball before and truTV, once known as Court TV, had never shown sports of any kind before, but Turner, which was paying a larger portion of the rights fee, went so far as to start alternating the Final Four with CBS starting in 2016 (later negotiations allowed TBS to show the national semifinals in 2014 and 2015 while the national championship game remained on CBS).

The long answer? You’ll have to get the book for that, and for how television money has completely upended the world of sports over the last decade, especially since the BCS blazed this trail with its 2008 agreement with ESPN, how the race for sports rights has changed the TV industry in turn, and how it might all prove to be built on a house of cards that might already be tumbling down. For this week only, until Friday, April 8th, you can get it for Kindle absolutely FREE, or you can buy the paperback at most online booksellers anytime. By the time you’re done reading, you might wish you hadn’t watched the game at all.

One Comment

  1. Walt Gekko
    Posted April 15, 2016 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    To me, the main reason you did not see ESPN wind up with the rights to the NCAA tournament was because the NCAA likely would have insisted on games airing on ABC. That would have run afoul of a large number of ABC affiliates, especially west of the Central Time Zone where many normally air shows like “Live With Kelly & Michael” and Rachel Ray when tournament games would be airing (not to mention having “The View” only air in the eastern half of the country those days, forcing Jimmy Kimmel back to likely 1:00 AM ET or so and also preventing ABC stations in many instances from airing “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” which have aired in the local hour of prime time for 25 years or more in many cities dating back to the ’80s). That to me was why CBS/Turner got the deal starting with 2011.

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