How CBS, Turner teamed up on NCAA

By John Ourand
McManus is joined by former Turner President David Levy and CBS’s David Berson as well as on-air talent Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson and Jim Nantz at the 2017 Final Four.CBS Sports

CBS and Turner’s landmark NCAA deal in 2010 remains one of Sean McManus’ favorites, mainly because of the complexities involved with getting two rival companies to work so closely together.


“In terms of innovation and new thinking, the Turner deal was something that had never been done before,” McManus said. “Lots of people have done NFL deals before. But that NCAA deal combined our resources directly with Turner on everything – production, talent, marketing, communications, sales. That had never been done before with any media property, much less a sports property.”

The reason for such a unique deal: CBS was faced with a situation where it would lose $250 million per year for the last three years of its existing NCAA Tournament deal. “We had to convince the NCAA not to pick up their option with us,” he said. “I spent months with a fear that we would have to do the last three years of the deal. Another fear I had that was that we would lose the tournament altogether.”

Enter David Levy and Turner Sports, who structured a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS to keep NCAA Tournament games on CBS while also expanding them to Turner’s networks. Under the new plan, instead of showing regionalized games in the tournament’s early rounds, every tournament game would be carried in full on one of four TV channels.

“Our announcers would actively encourage people to watch a different game on a different network, if their game was a blowout,” McManus said. “Nothing was done like this before. I knew we had broken the model when Jim Nantz was doing audio promos for ‘Hardcore Pawn,’ which was a series on truTV.”

More importantly, McManus and Levy pushed to make sure the two companies worked well together, with no infighting.

“David Levy and I said to our teams, ‘We’re going to make this work. We’re going to make every decision based on what’s good for the viewer, not what’s good for CBS and Turner,’” McManus said. “And everybody lived up to that. It’s a unique relationship, and it’s one that’s been incredibly satisfying and successful.”

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