SVG College Sports Video Summit Tips Off With Shaheen Keynote; Finding Opportunity Amidst the Chaos and March Madness

Greg Shaheen, NCAA Senior Vice President, Basketball and Business Strategies, and President of the NIT, tipped off the 2010 SVG College Sports Video Summit with a look to the past and the history of the recently inked $10.8 billion, 14 year March Madness contract with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting and a look to a future where “co-opetition” can rule the day and college sports fans can easily find the content and information they desire.

“There is value to exclusive content but there must be ways we can figure out how to extract more value out of content by allowing certain kinds of access,” he said, adding that there are “borders” that exist between different rights holders that can allow more than one entity to extract value from content. The goal? To make less cumbersome for fans to follow a team or sport, as they often have to visit a myriad of TV networks, local and national Web sites, and more to find the information they desire.

Of course, when it comes to border issues, this week’s high-profile discussions of expansion by college conferences are dominating newspapers, TV, and social networking. Shaheen marvels that one of the best places for him to stay on top of developments is in Twitter posts, and that goes not only for issues like conference realignment but also the death of UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden at the age of 99 last week.

“What is happening now makes the ‘Jersey Shore’ seem all that not interesting, relatively speaking,” he adds with respect to the former. “It’s a fascinating time to see professionals do what they think is right.”

More than 450 people are attending the event that concludes tomorrow afternoon and is occurring during one of the more interesting weeks in the history of college sports off-season weeks. There is the potential for some major shifts in college conference alignments but, for the next two days, the focus is on college sports production techniques, workflows, and revenue opportunities.

That is why Shaheen’s presentation was the perfect place to start as his view from the NCAA offices takes in the entire landscape. And it is unsettled as he says chaos is the new norm. Only six weeks ago the $10.8 billion deal was signed but already it’s possible that innovation will change the landscape within a year or maybe even a month.

“Embracing change is obvious, and you need to embrace innovation and up sell those ideas to the people you work for and with, as well as those you sell to,” Shaheen explains.

Everyone’s role in the industry, he adds, is to hone and build on the tradition of college athletics but challenge beliefs and have difficult conversations that contemplate change going forward.

In a bit of history as prologue, he points to the impact the last NCAA March Madness contract, signed in 1999, had on the recently revamped contract. It was 1999 and a $6.2 billion deal was signed with CBS Sports that would not go into effect until 2002. But during those 30 months a sea change took place, with everything from the dotcom bust to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 impacting the greater economy.

“In retrospect what was important was not signing and starting the deal in 2002 but monitoring what elements worked well so that we could figure out how to provide maximum coverage,” says Shaheen.

And Shaheen, who was brought into the NCAA in 2004 at the behest of NCAA President Miles Brand, found a leader who was ready to go beyond simply monitoring the deal.

“Within 10 days of my starting he wanted to talk about the 2010 deal,” recalls Shaheen. “And Miles was not around to get the credit for the deal but he was looking ahead as far back as 2004, looking at the contract opt out and preparing for those discussions.”

One of the issues that needed to be laid out on the table was the possibility of expanding the tournament to 96 teams. Between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT Tournament there were 97 post-season basketball bids so there was already a mechanism in place for expansion. But simply introducing the concept would not be enough.

“We had to prepare to go to 96 teams because you can’t just raise the topic as a Trojan Horse,” recalls Shaheen. “It needed to be studied and researched before it could merit conversations.” For example, the NCAA needed to have a plan in place that would allow for every basketball game to be broadcast live.

That plan was eventually scaled back to 68 teams, a number that Shaheen says maximizes the revenue expectations of NCAA members.

How did Turner Broadcasting become a key party in the deal? The NCAA and NBA partner on a youth basketball initiative and, through NBA management, the NCAA team was able to get to know Turner Sports.

“Turner is an interesting player to add to the college sports mix and they convinced us they would look at a bid in a serious way,” says Shaheen. “And just as intriguing as the TV channels are the digital platforms they bring; those really framed the 14-year agreement. And the Division One Men’s Championship will be covered in every way, from being on your sponge in the sink, to PDA in the pocket, TV screens, and more.”

The NCAA points to the 14-year deal as a great means of providing security for members and the remaining 87 NCAA championships that will also be in play for TV and streaming deals after 2013. And like it did for March Madness the NCAA is evaluating opt out deals and the assets.

“There are a lot of different options for those rights,” says Shaheen, pointing to streaming, radio, and international distribution as just three possibilities.

Division II and Division III championships are also important. Weekly broadcasts of games and championship coverage in both is a success story.

“Division III has done a great job embracing every conceivable platform and all of those options and pieces give us a great story to tell,” he adds. “That is what the NCAA is all about.”

But that isn’t to say Shaheen doesn’t see a need for some changes. He says there is a need to bridge some of the differences between the NCAA and membership on issues like sharing assets.

“One concern is we can’t over-fragment ourselves in a way that no one sees where things come together,” he says. “We have to get to a point where the loyalty to a school, conference, or college sports in general can be manifested with convergence and tied together.”

That means the NCAA and its members need to be forward thinking and work on helping each other, building new opportunities through technology. “My personal perspective is we don’t want to be part of something where we are enemies based on the way the business structure works,” he adds.

Will the NCAA ever launch its own network? Shaheen says the NCAA has looked at it and, of course, there are archives of championships and live programming opportunities.

“We will never say never but we have to be convinced that the grass isn’t only greener on the other side but that it will continue to grow in that scenario,” he says. “It’s great to have a network but it’s important that people will watch it and if there isn’t a broad base [of viewers] the we would want to stop short and be careful we don’t place ourselves at risk.”