The middle of March marks one of the most exciting times of the year for sports: March Madness. 68 schools compete in a dramatic single elimination playoff for the crown of best college basketball team in the nation. This thrilling experience could be the pinnacle of the careers of many college athletes, but it’s also one of the most fruitful sporting events around.

In 2017, the NCAA generated a record $1 billion in revenue from media rights fees, ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and advertising during the 3-week tournament. For a quick comparison, the NFL makes an estimated $620 million from the Super Bowl, which is regarded as the most popular sporting event in the US. Most of the money comes from the TV deals, due to the fact that every game gets millions of viewers at a minimum, with the championship garnering over 23 million. CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting forked over a whopping $19 billion for the rights to broadcast the tournament on their respective networks until 2032. Let’s also taking into account the amount of money that’s not collected by the NCAA. In 2017, 70 million brackets were filled out, totaling $10.4 billion in bets.

Do the 68 teams that compete in March Madness get any of that bounty? Sort of. Every tournament game a school plays earns their respective conference (i.e Pac-12, ACC, SEC, etc.) a share of the overall revenue pot, roughly $1.7 million a game, which is paid out over the course of 6 years. The NCAA recommends that conferences distribute the earnings evenly among their schools, but it’s only a suggestion, as it’s up to the conference to decide. This is where it gets a bit shady.

You would hope that the ballplayers who trained all season and who people pay to see compete will get a piece of the pie, right? They don’t see a dime. Due to eligibility rules for student-athletes, they can’t make any money or else they forfeit their amateur status. I personally think it’s totally unfair because every entity involved in March Madness is making money except the players that actually generate the revenue. At the end of the day, it’s a business and these college kids are working a job like that in a bookstore or as a TA, so they should get paid some amount. Those against this idea argue that the athletes receive scholarships for their participation in sports, but are the kids really getting the full value of an education when they’re spending most of their time busy with practice or games from the Fall to Spring?

If the recent FBI crackdown revealing unlawful under-the-table payments to players revealed anything, it’s that a select number of kids are getting funneled cash anyways, why not make it legal and prevent the hooplah? Money can open up Pandora’s box, but I’m a firm believer that you should be paid for what you generate.  March Madness


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Rex Pham

Originally from the Bay Area, who then moved to Los Angeles, then out to New York City. NYU Stern MBA c/o 2014. Inspired by the grind of NYC to create something that has value. Lover of all things digital, culture, and brand strategy.

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