Dan Gavitt, known as the czar of college basketball, said Tuesday that while the Super Bowl might be the largest sporting event in the world, the NCAA Tournament takes just as much effort.
“It’s complex and complicated because if anyone doesn’t do their job properly, we’re in big trouble,” Gavitt, senior vice president of basketball for the NCAA, told a crowd of about 70 students at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law on the Downtown Phoenix campus. “Planning the event is a yearlong process, and it really does take a village to put this on.”
His talk with students on issues surrounding college basketball and the NCAA Tournament was at the invitation of Glenn M. Wong, executive director of ASU's Sports Law & Business Program.
Gavitt was in the Valley for a monthly NCAA meeting to talk with local stakeholders in preparation for the Final Four at the University of Phoenix Stadium in early April.
“Many of the students in our program are interested in collegiate athletics, marketing and event management,” Wong said. “And Mr. Gavitt can provide valuable perspective on those topics and the many, many more that encompass an NCAA Final Four.”
The Sports Law & Business Program “strives to prepare its students for impactful careers in the sports industry, and the opportunity to meet, learn from and network with industry leaders such as Mr. Gavitt is an important component of our program,” he said.
Recognizing sports is big business, ASU Law partnered with the W. P. Carey School of Business and Sun Devil Athletics in 2014 to offer a Master of Sports Law and Business degree. It is the only graduate program in the U.S. that intentionally combines sports law, business and athletics.
Gavitt sets the strategic direction and oversees the operation and management for men’s and women’s basketball at all three NCAA divisions.
He said Phoenix was selected as a host site for the Final Four in 2014 because it’s one of 10 cities that meet several criteria: a domed stadium that can seat 60,000 fans; a convention center to accommodate a fan experience and a downtown area filled with full-service hotels, restaurants and other big-city amenities.
“For a weekend, downtown Phoenix will turn into a basketball village, and if you’re a fan, you might be able to bump into a player or coach and get an autograph,” Gavitt said. “It makes the fan experience that much more rich.”
Speaking of rich, Gavitt confirmed that the NCAA Tournament is closing in on becoming a billion-dollar-a-year business after a landmark TV extension with CBS and Turner that will take them to 2032.
“Currently, our TV rights have a value of $775 million and will reach $1 billion in 2025,” Gavitt said. “We are premium content for the networks, and there’s nothing that compares to those events.”
Gavitt said more than 700,000 people each year attend the NCAA Tournament, which has 14 venues in 10 cities and accounts for 90 percent of all NCAA revenue.
“All that money flows back to the universities in the form of student scholarships and programs,” Gavitt said. “It’s vital to everyone involved.”
He said his job priorities are to continue to improve the fan experience and expanding the global brand. He has made strides in that direction since his tenure started in 2012 by seating student sections closer to the court and emphasizing regular-season games. This year the NCAA took the first step toward improving tournament selection by releasing partial March Madness rankings in February.
“It’s another way of being transparent as possible and generating buzz for March,” Gavitt said.
Technology and emerging platforms will play a role in expanding the NCAA sports brand, Gavitt said. He said it was conceivable that one day Apple, Netflix or Twitter could be involved in streaming their product.
"We are very interested in the future of emerging markets," Gavitt said.
Gavitt took time to praise ASU's Sports Law and Business Program during his hourlong Q&A session.
“I wish I did have a law degree, so good for you for pursuing this,” said Gavitt, who holds an MBA from Providence College. “It will serve your well to have that background and grounding.”
“It’s also good to have a passion for sports.”
Top photo: Dan Gavitt (right), senior vice president of basketball for the NCAA, talks with Sports Law & Business professor Glenn Wong in front of students at the Beus Center for Law and Society in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday. Gavitt talked about the high-dollar contracts with media outlets for coverage of the basketball tournaments and the logistics that go into running them. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now