By Dylan Manfre
The law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP was tasked with reviewing how the NCAA handled the 2021 women’s college basketball championship (WBBC) along with other women’s sports championships and how it compared to that of the men’s tournaments.
The firm released its 88-page report after an independent review in early August displaying how the NCAA can better support women’s sports and its student-athletes who voiced clear disdain at the inequities during the postseason basketball tournament.
The report concluded that the women’s basketball championship could be valued between $81-112 million per year in 2025. This is when the NCAA’s agreement with ESPN expires.
March Madness, the name given to the men’s college basketball postseason tournament, generates revenues comparable to the Super Bowl and is one of the highest-grossing sporting events in North America bringing in nearly $130 million per year, according to a Business Insider article. The report describes the men’s basketball championship (MBBC) as being “in the pantheon” of U.S. sports properties.
Adding the March Madness branding slogan to the women’s basketball championship is one of the main “immediate action” items the law firm suggested the NCAA do. Using this branding for women’s basketball is something the NCAA had never previously done.
Other immediate action items the NCAA could do, as detailed by the report, is holding a meeting between its corporate broadcasting partners, which are CBS/Turner and ESPN, to “determine strategies and a game plan to expand NCAA official sponsorship support beyond the MBBC to the WBBC and NCAA’s Other Championships.”
The report said because of the NCAA’s packaging and marketing of the women’s basketball championship, it has “not achieved its full marketplace potential value.”
To bridge the gap, the report suggested the NCAA consider holding the women’s and men’s Final Four in the same arena and on the same weekend. The report states this potential shift would “maximize impact on future TV negotiations.”
“The NCAA’s historic decision to sell the MBBC and WBBC media rights separately has exacerbated the difference in value between the Men’s and Women’s events,” the report says.
Viewership of the women’s basketball tournament has increased in recent years signifying its rising popularity. The 2021 tournament delivered an average of 23.9 million more viewing hours than 2019, according to the report. This reflects a 52% increase since that year’s tournament. (There was no NCAA tournament in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic).
The report attributes this increase to the games being shown on more of ESPN’s family of networks.
A goal of the review was to bridge the inequality gap between men’s and women’s sports. After University of Oregon women’s basketball forward Sedona Prince posted viral videos from the women’s basketball championship, displaying blatant disparities in weight rooms, swag packages and other accommodations between the men’s and women’s tournaments, it sparked a larger conversation.
“It was obvious that there were a lack of resources on the women’s side,’ MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor told The Rider News in April. “They didn’t have enough staff to pull it off correctly. They didn’t have the resources to present it correctly. On the other side, the men are having all the help they could possibly use.”