Turner Sports, NCAA To Create Digital Destination for Fans

This week, Turner Sports announced digital details of the long-term agreement it signed with the NCAA to strengthen coverage of all 88 NCAA championships. Through NCAA Digital, Turner Sports will manage and operate the association’s entire digital portfolio — broadband, mobile Web and apps, connected devices, social media, NCAA.com, March Madness on Demand (MMOD) — for the next 14 years.

“Our goal at the end of the day is to create a digital destination for college-sports fans,” says Lenny Daniels, EVP/COO of Turner Sports. “The industry is so fragmented right now between university sites, media sites, conference sites, NCAA.com. It would be really nice to create an overall destination for the fans. We realize that’s a long-term goal, not a short-term goal.”

To realize that goal, Turner will significantly increase its staff, adding another vertical within its digital group to oversee the NCAA content. That staff will be in place by first quarter 2011, when NCAA.com will be relaunched by Turner Sports (the site is currently run by CBS). Turner has also made a commitment to enhance editorial coverage through increased original programming, studio shows, and enhanced selection shows. Turner Sports will also enhance live video streaming, stats, and social-media interactivity as well as manage ad sales for NCAA Digital platforms.

The length of the deal coincides with the NCAA’s announcement earlier this year of a 14-year agreement with Turner and CBS covering television, Internet, and wireless rights to present the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship beginning in 2011. The joint agreement gives Turner Sports operational oversight of MMOD on broadband as well as March Madness mobile assets; Turner will work closely with CBS to transition that oversight.

NCAA Digital, however, includes not just the men’s basketball tournament but 88 championships across 23 men’s and women’s sports in three divisions.

“The length of the deal is very interesting, and the fact that it includes a lot of events,” Daniels says. “Some are higher-profile than others, but I think over the term of this deal, how the digital world and the landscape between TV and digital will come to interact are very exciting. There are a lot of potential opportunities included here, which we may not even know about today.”

For Daniels, the biggest challenge in the behemoth, all-encompassing digital agreement is the timing.

“We are now right before all of the [fall] championships are coming up, so we’re working with CBS on how we’re going to handle those, before we get everything transferred over to be ready for March Madness,” he says. “The first year is all about simply executing and making sure we don’t miss anything.”

The new agreement does not cover NCAA.org, the association’s public and administrative Website, or rights to its digital archival video, which are tied into an agreement with Thought Equity Motion.