CBS Sports has held the broadcast rights to the NCAA tournament since 1982.
Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports, negotiated the deal and called the network’s decision to take the risk and spend nearly $50 million on a collegiate basketball tournament – at a time when the NIT still maintained some prestige – “the single most important sports deal” in the company’s history (except for possibly the decision to get back into the NFL in ’98).
But it’s hard to argue against his point. The tournament enables the network to dominate 3 weeks every winter – in aggregate, the 67 games draw more viewers than the Super Bowl – and CBS has finished as the “most watched network” 15 of the last 16 years.
The value of the March Madness television package has grown exponentially since CBS first landed the broadcast rights to college basketball’s post-season tournament in 1981 for $48 million.
Since 1986, the cost of carrying the NCAA tournament has risen over 4,500% – which explains why the company eventually sought out a partner capable of picking up half the tab.
In 2011, CBS and Turner agreed to a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with the NCAA that gives them the exclusive broadcast rights – includes the valuable streaming rights – to the tournament through April ’24.
That deal has since been extended through 2032 for an additional $8.8 billion.
March Madness is the “most profitable” post-season entity, but it’s really a fool’s errand to evaluate billion dollar TV rights deals based on the profit and losses of a single event.