CAA Lands (Mid)Major TV Deal with NBC Sports Network

Shocking Final Four runs made by George Mason in 2006 and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011 established the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) as one of the premier mid-major conferences in the country. Now, it finally has a television deal to reflect that emergence.

On Monday, the CAA announced a five-year agreement with the NBC Sports Group that will exponentially increase both the conference’s national exposure and number of games produced in high definition.

The deal, which begins this fall and runs through 2016-17, includes 12 national telecasts of men’s basketball games and five national telecasts of regular season football games –  a first for the conference. The financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

It makes the CAA the first collegiate athletic conference to sign a broadcast agreement with the NBC Sports Network (which launched on Jan. 2) and thus ends the league’s relationship with ESPN. The agreement also includes the national rights to the men’s basketball semifinals and championship game – which has been a fixture among ESPN’s Championship Week for many years.

“That was the big question when it came to Championship Week and changing that,” said Yeager via phone from Chicago. “It was not without a lot of discussion among our ADs because ESPN has a big brand. We wanted to make sure that if we were going to go in a different direction that we were very confortable with it and the exposure that would be available and NBC Sports provides that for us.”

The CAA’s previous national rights deal with ESPN breaks at the end of this season and, after an exclusive negotiating period expired in the fall, the CAA turned its eye toward the rapidly developing NBC Sports Network. The conference had a natural relationship with NBC that paid off.

“It was a natural outgrowth for us due to Comcast already having our regional package,” says Yeager, CAA commissioner since 1983. “Also, Front Row Marketing, which is our sports media rights holder, is a Comcast subsidiary. So now that we’re with NBC, it ties everything together pretty nicely.”

The Comcast SportsNet regional networks, which have partnered with the CAA for the past 28 years, will regionally televise 39 additional men’s and women’s basketball games, including the quarterfinals of the men’s hoops tournament and the semifinals and finals of the women’s tournament. On top of that, Comcast Sports Group will also televise an additional 13 regular season football games.

The deal also increases the amount of telecasts in high definition, a key factor that the conference had struggled with in its past deals and one that Yeager stressed throughout negotiations. The new package ensures all national broadcasts will be an HD and that the local Comcast affiliates make a commitment to providing more games in HD.

A digital tier is also a part of the agreement though the details have not been disclosed at this point. Currently, digital rights of games not already claimed by national or regional packages are property of the home teams. When NBCSports.com establishes a digital streaming tier, they will coordinate with the conference but ultimately the final decision lies with the member institution.