Updated Mar 19, 2024 - Business

Scoop: ESPN retains College Football Playoff TV rights ahead of expansion

Michigan players celebrate the school's national championship

Michigan players celebrating the school's national championship victory on Jan. 8, 2024. Photo: Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

ESPN has signed a six-year extension worth $7.8 billion to remain the sole TV partner for the NCAA's top football playoff tournament, ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro told Sara Fischer during Axios' What's Next Summit on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Maintaining the TV rights to the highly lucrative tournament is essential for ESPN as it transitions to a streaming-first future.

Zoom in: The new deal keeps the College Football Playoff on ESPN through the 2031-32 season. The network's current agreement was set to expire after the 2026 final.

  • Starting this coming season, the CFP will expand from four to 12 teams. In 2026, when the new TV extension technically kicks in, the field could expand to 14 teams.
  • Beginning with the 2026-27 season, the National Championship game will move from ESPN to ABC.
  • As part of the deal, ESPN has the option to sublicense games to other networks.

There was speculation that the CFP committee wanted to split the rights for the expanded tournament across multiple broadcast partners, with Fox mentioned as an potential suitor.

The big picture: Even as the sports rights market tightens, ESPN and its parent company Disney have committed nearly $9 billion this year to keep some of its prized assets — with even more to come.

  • In January, ESPN agreed to a new eight-year TV deal with the NCAA worth $920 million to cover 40 of its championships, including the women's basketball tournament.
  • ESPN is currently in its exclusive negotiating window with the NBA and WNBA for its new TV contracts with those leagues. Those deals expire expire next year.

By the numbers: Since its inception in 2014, the College Football Playoff has been one of the most-watched sports events on television each season, eclipsed only by the NFL.

  • This year's championship game, which saw Michigan win its first title since 1997 over Washington, drew 25 million viewers, a four-year high.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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