Turner gets digital rights to NCAA championships

Turner Sports and the NCAA announced a 14-year digital rights

deal Tuesday that includes management of NCAA.com, the primary web

site for all 88 NCAA tournaments and other services.

”We’re doing this for a couple of reasons, and we would never

do a stupid economic deal,” said Lenny Daniels, executive vice

president and chief operating officer of Turner Sports. ”The

long-term television world is going to change, and we think

everything is, eventually, going to be interconnected.”

Financial terms were not immediately disclosed.

If Daniels is right, Turner Sports’ second major coup with the

NCAA in five months may put the network in a stronger position to

land future contracts.

In April, Turner and CBS announced they were teaming up as

broadcast partners for the NCAA’s marquee event, the men’s

basketball tournament, winning a bidding war with a 14-year, $10.8

billion deal that means each game will be broadcast live for the

first time in the 73-year history of the event. The NCAA will get

an additional $740 million per year, on average, from that deal –

money it says will go back to individual schools and

conferences.

But Turner Sports could be the big winner.

Beginning this season, Turner will carry games on three of its

cable channels (TBS, TNT and truTV), will begin alternating title

game broadcasts with CBS in 2016 and now holds digital rights to

all NCAA championships across all three divisions.

”I think people won’t understand until March how prominent

their (Turner’s) role is going to be in this agreement,” said Greg

Shaheen, the NCAA’s interim executive vice president of

championships and business strategies. ”The tournament is going to

have a different look and a different feel and how it is covered

will be a much better experience for the viewer. They (Turner) are

the ones who did a lot of the homework on this and they’re

formidable.”

Turner already has operational oversight of March Madness On

Demand, which drew 3 million viewers on the first Thursday of last

season’s NCAA tourney, as part of its television deal with CBS.

While the governing body’s primary web site, NCAA.org, will

continue to be run by the national office, Turner Sports wants to

add the other NCAA digital platforms to its long list of successful

web sites. Among those already being managed or operated by Turner

are NASCAR.com, PGATOUR.com and PGA.com and NBA.com and

WNBA.com.

Turner Sports is a division of Time Warner Inc.’s Turner

Broadcasting System Inc., based in Atlanta. It also oversees the

operation of SI.com.

What will change on the NCAA sites is not exactly clear yet.

Daniels said Turner Sports is still researching what Internet

surfers want to see. He’s already committed to adding more live

coverage and more highlights from championship events.

Shaheen hopes to see more coverage of ”The Road to the Final

Four,” though it is unlikely to include open coverage of the

currently closed-door selection process.

”We’re going to see if something is missing,” Daniels said.

”If you look across the whole college sports world, you’ll see it

(Internet coverage) is pretty fragmented. We want this to become

the place you go to for college sports.”

The free streaming, on-demand services could also get a

facelift.

”We would expect March Madness on Demand to take the next step

forward,” Shaheen said, though he didn’t explain what that would

be. ”I’ll defer to the experts, but they know we want to explore

what provides the best possible experience for the viewer.”

Shaheen also acknowledged that the twin 14-year deals were no

coincidence.

Turner Sports started discussing the digital rights while it was

still working on the men’s basketball television deal, and the

negotiations continued through the summer.

Turner has agreed to cover the cost of the upgrades, and the

NCAA will still retain the right to make money from digital

services.

”It really is a commitment by Turner to handle the startup and

the overall expense and over time, depending on the site’s

performance,” Shaheen said. ”The association has the opportunity

to share (in profits) as it goes forward.”