Why CBS and Turner Have 900 Million Reasons to Welcome Back March Madness

Reunion Between NHL and ESPN Fixes a 17-Year-Old Mistake

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Why CBS and Turner Have 900 Million Reasons to Welcome Back March Madness

CBS Sports chief Sean McManus not worried about sports’ pandemic-era TV declines

CBS and Turner have many reasons to be glad that March Madness is returning this year. Roughly 900 million reasons.

Following a lost year when the NCAA’s annual spring tournament became the first big sports casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, the competition returns next Thursday with some pandemic-era tweaks: games played in just one state (Indiana) and a slightly different broadcast schedule.

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And that means a resumption in the big payday for CBS and Turner, which brought in $910 million in national TV ad revenue in 2019 and $4.5 billion over the last five years. The two networks have jointly presented the three-week event for the last decade and split the revenue equally.

“Sometimes you don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s taken away from you,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said Wednesday during a virtual press conference. “It was really heartbreaking.”

The NCAA also took a massive financial hit from the tournament’s cancellation. Shortly after the tournament was benched last year, the NCAA announced that it would slash $375 million from the money it distributes to member Division I schools. The tournament generates nearly all of the NCAA’s revenue each year. (The organization doesn’t oversee the College Football Playoff.)

According to the NCAA’s yearly financial statement from last summer, the organization suffered a $600 million decline in revenue for its 2020 fiscal year, a drop of more than 50% compared to 2019. That included a $700 million decline in TV rights revenue from CBS and Turner: The NCAA only received $113 million of the $827 million it was supposed to get. The NCAA was able to recoup $270 million thanks to its insurance on the event.

The NCAA will hold its entire 2021 Men’s Basketball Tournament in the state of Indiana, with the majority of the 67 games taking place in Indianapolis. The 2021 tournament is scheduled to conclude with the Final Four and National Championship Game on April 3 and 5, respectively. Both games will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Games will be played on two courts inside Lucas Oil Stadium, as well as Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Mackey Arena in West Lafayette and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

McManus added that he’s not too worried about the industry-wide ratings declines during the pandemic, which has seen both the NBA Finals and World Series fall to record lows, while the Super Bowl fell to its lowest viewership in 14 years.

“From a sales standpoint — and ratings, in many ways, are used to sell our events — our sales have been remarkably strong. We’re just about sold out of the tournament,” he said. “I’m not hanging my head and worrying about the fact that ratings may be down. I think if we get a good tournament, I think the ratings will be perfectly fine. And I think the advertisers will be satisfied with the amount of men and women who see their commercials.”

Tim Baysinger