Countless NCAA women's basketball teams dream of playing during March Madness. The competition and rewards are unmatched. Last year, the NCAA Division 1 Women's Basketball Tournament saw all-time excitement when LSU beat Iowa in the Final Four.
ESPN is looking to take that excitement to a new level. The network struck a deal with the NCAA to broadcast the first NCAA-sponsored women's NIT-style tournament, per Front Office Sports. The “WBIT” will be the NCAA's version of the current privately-sponsored WNIT. Teams who do not make the primary Divison 1 bracket will have an added opportunity to compete in an alternative competition. ESPN's move to broadcast the tournament has all-around benefits.
“Presenting the inaugural WBIT across ESPN platforms further expands ESPN and Disney's commitment to elevating women's sports and investing in the growth of women's basketball at multiple levels,” said Dan Ochs, ESPN director of programming and acquisitions.
The network's current media deal including women's March Madness and 28 other NCAA Tournaments is reported to cost $34 million a year. It is believed that the deal could be worth up to $81 million, Front Office Sports explains. In retrospect, last year's women's championship game received a staggering 9.9 million viewers. Thus, ESPN has plenty of opportunities to grow the audience of women's basketball on its platforms.
With Angel Reese and Caitlyn Clark returning to the floor this season, ESPN and the NCAA could make more women's basketball viewership history. Their deal helps distribute additional women's games to platforms that will boost the sport.
The 32-team WBIT tournament is set to broadcast on ESPN+, ESPNU, and ESPN2.