Women’s basketball community sees new NCAA-ESPN deal as next step forward

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Members of the women’s basketball community say the new NCAA eight-year deal with ESPN that will pour an estimated $65 million annually into the sport reflects the growth of the game.

Now many are looking for one missing piece that is important to them: A revenue sharing program that gives performance units for success in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s a great step forward and it really shows how much progress has been made in just one year really,” University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think this definitely paves the way for a units program similar to the men. There’s still a lot left that we can accomplish and I look forward to it.”

That may just be more of a formality at this point.

NCAA President Charlie Baker indicated that the institution is committed to adding revenue sharing for women’s basketball. For that to happen, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors Finance Committee has to first put forth a proposal. The Division I Board of Directors is meeting next week in Phoenix so a future timetable could be discussed.

“Once schools see a return on their investment in a given sport they’ll invest more in the sport,” said former Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Commissioner Rich Ensor. “No question that it will drive more focus if you have revenue sharing. It’s a way coaches can increase their own salary scales because many times salaries aren’t equitable between men’s and women’s (programs). That’s because a lot of times the men’s program brings in a lot more revenue than the women’s.”

There’s virtually no chance that the revenue sharing would be in place by this year’s NCAA Tournament as the new deal doesn’t start until September and it would be extremely difficult to get a system in place in just two months.

“We need that part of it to happen. Not, you know, just for women’s basketball. We need it for women’s basketball, but we need it on our campuses because that’s what’s happening on the guy’s side,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “We need that to happen and then I do think you’ll start seeing administrators realize that we are revenue producing, a revenue-producing sport. That’s one of the things that’s holding us back.”

University of North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart, who is the president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, agrees with Staley.

“How do you tell (athletic directors) to continue to invest in women’s basketball other than out of the goodness of their own heart?” she said. “Now, once we get money assessed and money attached to postseason success and you get rewarded. It’s the next step in bringing other people along too as ADs hands are forced a little bit.”

There had been talk of a deal just for women’s basketball, instead of bundling it with other sports as it had been and as this new deal does.

“I would much rather see it stand on its own,” Staley said. “But there’s progress, and I know things won’t happen overnight. There’s progress. This deal lends some respect to our sport, and that’s what we’re searching for.”

A valuation in the 2021 Kaplan Report had women’s basketball being able able to merit “somewhere between $81 million and $112 million on its own.”

But Baker said bundling was the best deal. The NCAA valued women’s basketball rights at 10-times the amount in the previous deal with ESPN that was signed in 2011 and set to expire in August.

The NCAA president said that the current market was different than a few years ago and that it was “very important to us that we get what I would describe as the best deal for the most number of sports.”

The deal will ensure the NCAA will be able to cover the losses accrued from the women’s March Madness. In 2019, the governing body said it lost $2.8 million and those losses have multiplied the last few years since with increased spending after disparities between the men’s and women’s tourneys were pointed out.

Other things the NCAA said the deal will help women’s basketball with include:

— Schools and the NCAA will be able to use more clips in-game on social media which will help promote the sport.

— Scholarship protections, post-grad insurance and life skill schools.

— Division II and III games on ESPN-plus.

The new deal will run out at the same time as the men’s basketball deal does, which will allow for greater negotiations for sponsorships for both sports.

The women’s NCAA Tournament is coming off a record year that saw nearly 10 million fans tune in for the championship game between Iowa with Caitlin Clark and LSU with Angel Reese. That game was played on ABC during the afternoon and ESPN executives said that they didn’t plan on moving the game to prime time anytime soon.

“We found that the afternoon window on ABC seems to work pretty well,” said ESPN executive vice president for programming and acquisitions Rosalyn Durant. “We look at the record viewership we experienced this past year. … I can’t say what the future holds, but we feel like we were in a really good place.”

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