March Madness Viewership Up, Question Of Paying Players A Nonstarter

Soaring early March Madness TV viewing -- but don’t pay those athletes G

Growing viewership for the highest profiled college sports programming -- NCAA’s “March Madness” -- brings good news, as well as continued controversial topics.

NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament had its best opening-weekend numbers in 24 years -- averaging 9.3 million total viewers across CBS, truTV, TBS and TNT -- 10% higher than last year’s 8.5 million.

And, in a separate but related story: A new poll of college students believe college athletes should not be paid -- 53% of 7,552 college students said "no" when asked to answer the following question: “Should college athletes get paid for their talents and contributions to their university?” 

Some 30% said "yes," but 16% were "indifferent."

LendEDU, an educational finance company that did the study, offered analysis as to why the poll yielded those results: Non-athlete college students, in looking at their own financial struggles to attend college, believe many college athletes already get full scholarships. Those thousands of free dollars is deemed a sufficient benefit.



Sports-business owners, NCAA executives and TV network executives, have their strong own point of view. One overriding belief: Paying college athletes will mean higher TV program costs -- rights fees -- to TV networks.

College athletes say they should be paid, especially if their images, their brands are going to be used to “sell” the league, where TV networks gets to “sell” commercials to advertisers.

This controversy began with a 2009 lawsuit. College basketball players likenesses were being used NCAA-backed college basketball video games. In 2016, a settlement was reached -- $60 million -- with the NCAA, video-game manufacturer Electronic Arts and the Collegiate Licensing Co.

Live TV continues to be dominated by all kinds of live sports programming -- highly profitable sports like NBA, NBA, Major League Baseball, and NHL, as well as big-time basketball and football college sports. This is the kind of content TV networks are increasingly looking to fill up their schedule. 

All of which means the next round of college football TV rights negotiations could kick-start the same concern about paying college athletes.

One thing for sure: Even if TV sports rights fees rise -- even at a slightly faster pace than now -- you can be pretty sure TV networks will continue to foot the bill. An easy layup, for sure.

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