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 Indianapolis-based 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."