The cancellation of NCAA’s lucrative March Madness basketball tournaments on Thursday will jeopardize expected revenue from the most lucrative event in college sports.
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The NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball tournament generates $867.5 million annually from television and marketing rights alone, according to the institution’s website. The event composes a significant portion of the NCAA’s yearly revenue. In 2019, the NCAA earned an estimated $933 million when factoring in media rights, ticket sales and sponsorships.
Ticket revenue was effectively wiped out after NCAA President Mark Emmert moved to cancel the tournaments and other upcoming championship events. That lost revenue alone will cost the NCAA tens of millions of dollars.
“Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships,” the NCAA said in a statement. “This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.”
At present, it's unclear how the NCAA's decision will affect its broadcast rights deals with CBS and WarnerMedia's TNT.
The unprecedented decision marked a reversal for the NCAA, which indicated on Wednesday that it had planned to proceed with the tournaments without fans in attendance. Revelations on Wednesday night that Rudy Gobert of the NBA's Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus prompted U.S. sports leagues to take fast action.
The NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS have all suspended activities. At least 14 NCAA conferences canceled their individual postseason basketball tournaments.
Editor's note: This story was updated on Thursday after the NCAA announced cancellation of March Madness and other upcoming championship events.