How the NCAA disincentivizes sponsors from investing in women's basketball
The NCAA gender inequity files, pt. 3
Okay, so this week. So, believe it or not, I have three more editions of the NCAA Gender Inequity Files coming to you this week. If you’ve missed it, this is a series where we take a deep dive into Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP’s reports on gender equity in the NCAA, which were commissioned after Sedona Prince’s TikTok comparing weight rooms at the men’s tournament and women’s tournament went viral in March.
Last month, in parts one and two we looked at the MANY discrepancies between the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments this past spring. I highly recommend that you take a minute or 15 to scan through those, because they are chock full of receipts.
In these next three newsletters we’re going to zoom out and look at what the reports say about the bigger-picture inequities between the men’s and women’s basketball championships. Today’s edition is going to be very short, because I want to hone in on one very specific part of the equation: sponsorship.
So sit back, relax, and get ready to rage. Because this is upsetting.
Here’s a guide to discouraging sponsorship of women’s sports, written by the NCAA
In the next two newsletters we will take a closer look at the NCAA’s broadcast contracts for the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball championships. But here’s a brief overview to set up the sponsorship situation: ESPN pays the NCAA approximately $34 million a year to broadcast 29 NCAA championships, including women’s basketball; meanwhile, CBS/Turner pays the NCAA approximately $1 billion per year to broadcast the men’s NCAA basketball championships.
If $1 billion sounds like an obscene amount of money to you, well, I’m glad, because it should. But, in CBS/Turner’s defense — a statement I never thought I’d say — they’re not paying that hefty sum solely for broadcast rights to the men’s NCAA basketball championship. The current contract also gives CBS/Turner the sponsorship rights for every single NCAA championship. All 90 of them.
So, quick recap: CBS/Turner has the sponsorship rights for every single NCAA championship game, even though they only have the broadcast rights for men’s basketball. Sure.
To manage these sponsorships, CBS/Turner and the NCAA have developed a Corporate Champions and Partner Program. What is that? Well, I’ll tell you in this footnote, because the explanation is clunky and might put you to sleep.1
But anyway, here’s the main thing you need to know about this program, via Phase 1 of the report:
That’s right. As one would expect, CBS/Turner only really cares about making money for CBS/Turner, so they’re only incentivized to develop sponsors for the men’s basketball championships.
According to the Desser Media & Sponsorship Addendum, CBS/Turner “don’t actually want those sponsors to spend anything on the ESPN presentation of the WBBC or the NCAA’s Other Championships if it results in any decrease in buying MBBC inventory or other CBS/Turner-owned inventory.”
Again, to review, because it is so nonsensical it’s honestly hard to comprehend: The only people allowed to sell sponsorships to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament2 have no incentive to sell sponsorships to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Cool.
Believe it or not, that’s not all. It gets even worse.
As we’ve established, CBS/Turner requires its Corporate Champions and Partners to purchase sponsorship rights to all 90 championships PLUS the media rights to the men’s championship, and the Corporate Champions and Partner program is the only way to be an NCAA sponsor. That means there is no way under the current structure for a partner to *just* be a sponsor of the women’s basketball championship.
As the Desser Addendum notes, this creates a “very high practical financial hurdle” in front of companies interested in sponsoring women’s basketball, because of the “mandated advertising spend CBS/Turner insists upon to support [men’s basketball.]”
AND STILL it gets worse.
This entire situation requires NCAA sponsors to take extra steps if they *are* interested in sponsoring women’s basketball. Here’s the report once more:
Yup. If you are a part of the official Corporate Champions and Partner Program, you are mandated to buy ads for the men’s tournament. It’s automatic, baked in, a given. Easy. But if you want to air your official ads during the women’s tournament, you have to SEPARATELY contact ESPN to negotiate that. This huge Corporate Champions and Partner Program cannot help you.
To summarize, because I just want to be clear we all see how laughably detrimental and defeatist this is: the people in charge of NCAA sponsorship have no incentive in the slightest to sell sponsorships to the women’s basketball championship; companies that want to sponsor the women’s basketball championship can only do so if they pay an exorbitant — and often prohibitive — amount of money to buy ad space in the men’s basketball championship and become an official member of the Corporate Champions and Partner Program; and even the high-rolling companies who join said program and want to support women’s basketball have to take extra steps and spend even more money to buy ad space during the women’s basketball championships.
It’s almost like the NCAA can’t even comprehend a world where corporate sponsors would want to support women’s basketball. Which, when it comes to women’s sports, is the rule, not the exception.
FIFA Women's World Cup @FIFAWWC🚨 MEDIA RELEASE 🚨 FIFA is introducing a new commercial partnership structure. The launch of a dedicated women’s football commercial vertical marks another step in FIFA’s commitment to make football more equitable and accessible for women and girls. 📰https://t.co/UCaZYSfwP5 https://t.co/2xC1X2XBO8
I told you this would make you rage.
The Corporate Champions and Partners Program it’s something CBS/Turner and the NCAA invented that grants a sponsor both exclusive marketing rights, within its particular product category, to use the NCAA’s brand (and trademark and tagline and tickets, etc.) for all 90 championships, *and* media rights to air advertising and programming on CBS/Turner networks airing the men’s tournament games.
The NCAA and CBS/Turner keep this Corporate Champions and Partner Program purposefully small — currently, there are only 18, and there aren’t allowed to be more than 30.
We are focusing on women’s D1 college basketball right now because that’s the framing and the greatest direct comparison to men’s college basketball, but make no mistake about it, this sponsorship bullshit is a raw deal for all other NCAA sports, too.