How Much Does the NCAA Make Off March Madness?

A Lot, but It Doesn't Go to the Players
March Madness is big business for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), when its most anticipated basketball games tip off and sports fanatics scramble to fill out tournament brackets and place bets in office pools. The NCAA typically pulls in about $1 billion each year in revenue from media rights, merchandise licensing, ticket sales, and corporate sponsorships associated with the three-week tournament.

And the games aren't just a revenue generator within the collegiate ecosystem. In 2023, 68 million Americans wagered an estimated $15.5 billion on the tournament, according to the American Gaming Association.

Key Takeaways

  • The NCAA earned $1.28 billion in revenue in 2022-2023, with about $1 billion coming from March Madness alone.
  • Despite the huge sums of money raked in by the NCAA, the players have historically received zero compensation.
  • Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, 2022 was the first year when players could earn money from endorsement deals and sponsorships.
  • The NCAA shares its March Madness revenues with the participating athletic conferences based on the performance of their member schools.
  • Broadcast rights to college sports continue to be the major source of income for the NCAA, bringing in over $945 million in 2023.

What Is the Size of the Pot?

Basically, March Madness is the NCAA's bread and butter. In the 2022-2023 season, college athletics' governing body earned $1.28 billion in revenue, with broadcast rights to the men's Division I basketball tournament alone accounting for roughly $900 million of that. On the surface, that seems like cause for outrage, especially in light of how much the players earn: nothing.

While players make no money from March Madness, they can now get paid for endorsement deals, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2021. This was after the NCAA blocked players from earning money for decades.

A 2021 rule change allows NCAA athletes to earn money from their names, images, and likenesses (NIL), though they're still prohibited from being paid to play while in school. Many states have also passed NIL laws.

How Tournament Money Gets Divided

The NCAA doesn't keep all of the money it receives from March Madness-related media and marketing deals but distributes much of it to its member sports conferences, based on the number of tournament games their teams played in.

The conferences then divide the money among all their teams, using their own formulas. In 2023, for example, Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams played in 17 tournament games and earned the highest estimated payout of $34 million. Big 12 conference teams were next, playing in 16 games and earning an estimated $32 million, according to Sportico.

Of course, each conference wants to see as many of its member schools in the tournament as possible, to raise the payout that it receives. For smaller, lesser-known conferences, that money can represent a major portion of their annual income.

When a surprise team that is virtually unknown makes it through multiple rounds, the payout can represent a much-needed cash injection for its conference. For larger conferences, however, such as the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) or the Big Ten, the money is more like financial icing on the cake than a major source of revenue.

The NCAA's decision to pull the plug on 2020's tournament just before it got underway due to the COVID-19 pandemic—the first cancellation in its 81-year history—slashed revenue by more than half for the 2020 fiscal year, to just below $520 million. The NCAA ended up posting a net loss of nearly $56 million that year.

How Earnings Are Shared Within Conferences

The NCAA urges conferences to divide the money equally among their member schools, and many conferences do just that. Larger conferences, which have multiple sources of income, routinely divide up most of the money and send it to their member schools' athletics programs. Smaller conferences, however, may count on that money to cover their own expenses. Only whatever is left over goes to member schools.

Despite the proliferation of betting associated with the March Madness tournament each year, the NCAA's official policy states that: "If you are a student-athlete, coach, or athletics staff member, regardless of sport or division, you are not allowed to bet or provide any useful information that can influence a bet in any sport the NCAA sponsors at any level."

How Much Are the NCAA's Annual Revenues?

For the 2022-2023 season, the NCAA generated $1.28 billion in revenues. March Madness accounts for most of that, in the form of broadcast rights, ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and television advertising.

When Was the First NCAA Basketball Tournament?

The first NCAA men's basketball tournament took place in 1939, with eight teams participating. The University of Oregon played the Ohio State University in the finals, with Oregon winning 46-33.

How Many Teams Play During March Madness?

A total of 68 teams currently play in the NCAA tournament, a number that's narrowed down through seven rounds. For 2024, March Madness begins with Selection Sunday on March 17, when the NCAA announces the teams and brackets, and culminates on April 8, with the NCAA championship game.

How Much Does the NCAA Earn in TV Broadcasting Revenues?

For 2023, the NCAA earned $945.1 million from selling broadcasting rights to its games, and it stands to earn even more in the future, especially from March Madness. Back in 2016, the NCAA signed a contract extension with CBS and TBS, granting them rights to broadcast the March Madness tournament from 2025 through 2032 at a cost of $8.8 billion over that period—or roughly $1.1 billion a year.

The Bottom Line

There's been plenty of criticism over the years regarding the funding model used by the NCAA. The colleges receive only a portion of the money they generate through sports competitions, and the players see none at all. However, new NCAA rules and state laws have made it possible for at least some athletes to benefit from the marketing of their names, images, and likenesses. Meanwhile, antitrust-law challenges to the NCAA's power to enforce its rules could soon make March Madness a whole new ballgame.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. American Gaming Association. "."
  2. U.S. Supreme Court. ""
  3. ESPN. "."
  4. Sportico. "."
  5. NIL Network. "."
  6. National Collegiate Athletic Association. "."
  7. Sportico. "."
  8. National Collegiate Athletic Association. "," Page 4 (Page 6 of PDF).
  9. National Collegiate Athletic Association. "."
  10. History. "."
  11. National Collegiate Athletic Association. "."
  12. The Wall Street Journal. "."
  13. Sportico. "."
Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.
m88 trực tuyến nhacaiuytin link 12bet 2888k casino fb88 nhà cái w88