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Women’s March Madness TV rights decision expected by end of 2023

The 2023 women's basketball championship game between LSU and Iowa averaged a record 9.92 million viewers. (C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The NCAA women’s basketball tournament is coming off its biggest March ever, capped off by the most-watched women’s college basketball game ever in the national championship. And women’s March Madness soon will be in the market for a new TV deal.

Whether or not that deal will come as part of a package with other sports, as it stands now, or as a standalone deal will be decided by the end of the year, according to new NCAA president Charlie Baker.

“This is a big opportunity for us to do to do well by sports that are doing well by all of us and to make sure that, coming out of this, we end up with what I would describe as the best possible deal we can make for all of these sports,” Baker said at the LEAD1 Association’s spring meeting. “My guess is that the process of this will probably be done sometime around the end of the calendar year. … It’s a giant opportunity, and we better not blow it.”

The current broadcast deal is part of a 29-sport package with ESPN, which is worth approximately $34 million per year. It includes all of the Division I championships except FBS football, men’s basketball (domestic rights) and men’s and women’s golf.

But that contract will expire at the end of the 2023-24 academic year.

An uptick in interest in the women’s game — particularly on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, which showcased inequities between the women’s and men’s games — has brought speculation that the women’s tournament could stand on its own moving forward.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said in March that a separate deal “should happen.” And that was before the women’s final averaged a record 9.92 million viewers on ABC.

“We’re at that place where we’re in high demand. I do believe women’s basketball can stand on its own and be a huge revenue-producing sport that could do, to a certain extent, what men’s basketball has done for all those other sports, all those other Olympic sports and women’s basketball. I do believe we’re at that place now,” she said.

“I do believe we were probably at a place years ago, but until we’re able to have the decision makers give us that opportunity… It’s slowly building up to that because there’s proof in the numbers.”

Speaking ahead of the championship game between LSU and Iowa, Baker told reporters that he would leave the tournament’s value up to the market.

“Let’s see what the market thinks it’s worth,” he said. “I think the market is going to think it’s worth a lot.”

Independent media expert Ed Desser has put the value of women’s March Madness between $81 million and $112 million per year on its own.

The women’s basketball tournament is “the most important property that ESPN has, the biggest one that it has, in March,” John Kosner, a former ESPN executive, told the Wall Street Journal. “And in a subscription world, months matter.”