Turner Sports is relaunching NCAA.com as part of a wide-ranging, 14-year digital partnership with the National Collegiate Athletic Association and is looking to build up the site into a major year-round portal for college sports fans.
"Currently the activity on the site typically revolves around the three championship seasons [in fall, winter and spring] for the NCAA, and one of the changes we are making is to focus on the NCAA athletes and the results of the games on more of a year-round basis, with the goal of making NCAA.com the No. 1 college sports destination 365 days a year," notes Matt Hong, senior VP and general manager of sports operations for Turner Sports.
Earlier this year, Turner and the NCAA announced the formation of the joint venture NCAA Digital to handle a number of the association's digital efforts; Turner handles all operations and sales for the venture. A separate deal between CBS, Turner and the NCAA governs the TV and digital operations for the men's basketball championship, also known as March Madness.
The relaunch of NCAA.com is the first step in revamping and expanding those digital efforts, which will continue in upcoming months with revamped mobile efforts and a variety of new apps.
As part of the site relaunch, scheduled to go live around 11 a.m. ET on Dec. 20, Turner will be investing heavily in college sports production so it can stream live more than 60 NCAA championships a year. It will also be looking to boost revenue and traffic by drawing on its expertise in operating and selling advertising for other sports web sites-including SI.com, PGATour.com, PGA.com, NASCAR.com-that reached more than 43 million unique visitors in the 2nd quarter of 2010.
Turner also handles ad sales and supplies content to Yahoo! Sports and works with the National Basketball Association to jointly manage NBA Digital, which includes NBA.com, NBA TV and the league's mobile operations.
For the redesign, Turner's design teams worked to make the site's content more easily accessible and to dramatically expand video and news so it could develop into a year-round portal for college sports, notes Mark Johnson, VP of business operations at Turner Sports.
"We will have 60-plus live championships streaming on NCAA.com, and for most of those championships it will not just be the final game, but also could be the quarterfinals or the semifinals," Johnson explains. "So you could be getting into the range of a couple of hundred [events and games] per year, which is a significant amount of exclusive content."
Turner or professional third parties will be producing all the games that will be streamed. "The goal is to get the quality of the video up to an HD standard" whenever possible, Johnson says.
The live streaming events on NCAA.com will initially be free, Hong says. "As we look down the road, we will look at a number of additional models including potentially subscription products," he says.
In its other digital sports properties, Turner has bundled ad sales between TV and online.
That won't be possible with a number of the NCAA events that will not be appearing on TV or will be aired by other programmers and networks.
Turner is hoping, however, to boost sales by bundling sponsorships together for all the sites it manages. "By adding NCAA.com to the portfolio of other sports sites that we sell, it will make the portfolio of Turner-sold sites all that more attractive," Hong notes. "It will allow us to go to a single sponsor and offer them a presence on NCAA.com" and the other sites.
One of the biggest bundling opportunities will occur with the NCAA men's basketball championship. Television rights for the games are part of the three-way deal between CBS, Turner and the NCAA; a separate deal between Turner and the NCAA created NCAA Digital.
For March Madness, CBS and Turner will co-produce the games and work together to sell ad time. Turner will have operational oversight of March Madness on Demand (MMOD) on broadband, as well as the March Madness mobile assets.
But the ads for MMOD and the mobile assets will be jointly sold by Turner and CBS.
Last year when CBS ran MMOD it was free, but Hong declined to say whether that will be the case this year.