The NCAA is reportedly considering selling the women’s basketball tournament rights as a separate property, bringing it more in line with the men’s tournament, according to Sportico.
Previously, the NCAA women’s basketball tournament has been packaged in with 28 other men’s and women’s championships.
The move would mark yet another change to the women’s tournament that has come in the wake of an inequities report that has led to changes in college basketball. Last year’s women’s tournament made headlines for the inequities that women’s teams faced in comparison to the men’s.
This year’s tournament already has noticeable differences. For the first time, the women’s bracket has featured “March Madness” branding, seen both digitally and inside arenas. Previously, the women’s tournament was not allowed use of the iconic branding.
“It’s equality,” Carol Stiff, former ESPN executive and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, told Sportico of the branding. “It just looks prestigious and larger.”
Additionally, the tournament expanded from 64 to 68 teams, meaning that for the first time ever, women’s basketball had a “First Four” slate of games.
Some of the larger items from the report still need to be addressed, such as the tournament’s distribution rights. ESPN is paying just $34 million per year for rights to the women’s basketball tournament as well as the other 28 championships.
“It makes more sense if you’re the NCAA and you’re trying to get maximum exposure and revenue to sell these parts separately and monetize it accordingly,” said Ed Desser, a longtime sports media consultant who helped in the external review and believes the property could be worth more than $100 million annually.
ESPN has also been reporting an uptick in viewership. In addition to the tournament setting attendance records, viewership in the second round was announced to have increased 25 percent over last year’s numbers.
The NCAA women’s tournament continues Monday with the final slate of Elite Eight matchups.