By Rachel Holmes
As the bitter cold of February quickly fades away, March brings new excitement to sports fans across the country. However, it may be bringing more than many had hoped for.
With a whopping 67 game streak, March Maddness is gearing up to start with the first four college teams battling it out on March 13. However, as fans tune in to watch the game on their iPhone, iPad, Android, or computer, they may be faced with a $3.99 fee. In addition, cable and satellite users will have to authenticate, or prove they subscribe to a media provider that offers the service, before being able to watch any games.
For the past five years, colligate basketball fans have been allowed to watch every game of the tournament online at no charge. However, that has changed with the new CBS and Turner’s 14-year and over $10 billion deal with the NCAA. Under this contract, CBS will not show regional coverage of games, but each game will be aired nationally on one of four television networks – CBS, TBS, TNT, and TruTV.
As the technology continues to improve across the country, it is increasingly easier to access all sorts of media on mobile devices, including live streaming to the NCAA March Madness Tournament. Yet, the new policy will force basketball fans to either pay a flat rate or take an extra “authentication” step just to watch their favorite college basketball teams play or to check up on how their predicted bracket is holding up in the tournament.
But before we basketball fans get too upset at the newly introduced viewing cost, we must remember that March Madness on demand was not always free of charge. In 2003, viewers paid a $15 subscription fee to watch the tournament. It wasn’t until 2006 that March Madness became completely free to watch, and that was because funding for the service came from advertisers. Though March Madness Live will still include ads, this year viewers will face a flat fee of $3.99.
Since the implementation of the $3.99 mobile fee or authentication step required by fans, some speculate that viewers will just decide that it is easier to pay the flat rate.
However, is this ultimately fair for the fans? If the tournament is still being supported by advertisements, is a flat fee necessary for viewership?
In 2011, when viewership was free, CBS and Time Warner reported that 2.4 million fans watched games online and another 700,000 fans watching the tournament on mobile devices each day. With the newly implemented cost, viewership is likely to go down.
While CBS claims that it will still provide games online for free, the mobile device charge and extra authentication step for cable and satellite providers might make sports fans more mad than necessary for the March Madness season.