Hoop Dreams

CBS is happy to be mad. March Madness—otherwise known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Men's Basketball Tournament—begins this week, and John Bogusz, executive vice president, sports sales, for CBS, says it's more than 95% sold. The Tiffany network has netted a record $380 million for the three-week basketball classic, up 10% from a year ago.

If that's a harbinger of prosperity, it's thanks to an improved overall sports market. Major sponsors are Coke, GM, and Cingular. Each has invested roughly $30 million for ad time and other marketing-related events, such as in-store promotions. They are joined by Fidelity and Hartford, both returning after a year on the sidelines. Putnam Investments is a brand-new player.

Buyers say the rate hikes are moderate, in the mid single digits. OMD Executive Vice President Ray Warren says the tournament should get a lift in ratings versus last year, when the Iraq War hit smack in the middle of it and forced the network to put some games on ESPN.

Peter Olsen, senior vice president and manager of national broadcast at MediaCom, calls the tourney a "terrific marketing vehicle because it's a nice, concise three-week period that people can do promotions around." It's a little pricey, he admits, "but the demand has always been there."

For CBS, March Madness is nothing but net.