The television rights for the NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament, one of the crown jewels of sports properties, are up for bidding after the NCAA terminated its exclusive negotiations with CBS Sports, which has held exclusive rights to the tournament since 1986, television industry sources said last night.
The sources said the NCAA solicited bids this week from four media companies: Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC Sports and the cable ESPN networks; CBS, which is merging with Viacom to become the world's largest media company in a deal announced Tuesday; Fox, with its over-the-air network and regional cable sports network; and ISL, a Swiss-based company that markets and syndicates the World Cup soccer tournaments.
The deadline for submitting bids is next week, a source involved in the process said. The current seven-year, $1.73 billion deal with CBS expires after the 2002 season. The new deal could be worth $3 billion to $4 billion over 10 years, according to industry sources quoted while CBS and the NCAA were in negotiations.
Neither the NCAA nor CBS Sports would comment on the latest development, but industry sources said the parameters the NCAA is seeking from a new TV partner makes Disney the favorite to land the contract, with CBS second.
According to sources familiar with the NCAA's solicitation, the NCAA is seeking as long as a 10-year deal and would like the winning bidder to carry every NCAA championship. It is a situation that Disney could handle the best, because of its ESPN and ESPN2 cable entities. The company has said it could televise four men's basketball tournament games at the same time--on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classics.
"We've certainly always been very interested," said ESPN spokeswoman Rosa Gatti. "We feel that ABC and ESPN offer the perfect platform."
Gatti said she could offer no specifics and other ESPN officials, through her, declined to comment.
It was unclear last night how the entrance of Viacom, a programmer and cable operator, would affect CBS's bidding.