March Madness Sold Out With Record Ad Revenue for CBS, Turner

Johnny Davis #1 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives to the basket during the first half of the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Kohl Center on March 06, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. Nebraska defeated Wisconsin 74-73.
(Image credit: John Fisher/Getty Images)

March Madness has slam-dunked the ad market.

CBS Sports and Turner, which carry the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, said their commercial inventory is sold out on TV and on digital platforms, generating record revenue for the event.

Prices were up double digits, with 30-second spots on early games costing a couple of hundred thousand dollars and commercials in the final game going for more than $2 million. Two years ago, the tournament generated nearly $1 billion in ad revenue, according to Kantar.

“We have had one hell of a selling season,” said John Bogusz, executive VP for ad sales at CBS Sports. “As a matter of fact, we’ve written more ad revenue in this tournament than we ever had before.”

“This is the earliest we’ve actually sold the tournament out,” added Jon Diament, executive VP and chief revenue officer for Turner Sports.

Diament noted that the sports market remains strong and that Turner and CBS were able to sell out the tournament without selling ads to sports books and other gambling outfits, which have been pouring money into television as betting becomes legalized. The NCAA bars gambling ads during its events.

There are about 20 major sponsors for March Madness, all returning from last year. Those big advertisers represent about 60% of the revenue the tournament generates. Also returning is AT&T, which sponsors the halftime show during games.

Big spending categories for the tournament include auto companies, insurance companies and fast food chains. Diament also noted that movie studios are back after the pandemic, as are travel advertisers.

Some advertisers will be running commercials 1 minute or so long. Others will be incorporating talent from Turner into ads specially made to appear during games.

Bogusz said he expects ratings to be strong for this year’s March Madness because the Blue Blood schools — Duke, Kansas, Kentucky — will be playing this year and they are proven audience draws. The field is also likely to be well-distributed geographically with strong teams in the West and southwestern areas of the country. 

“It’s also nice to have a story,” Bogusz added. "This is Coach K’s last year. If Duke advances that’s going to be a really good story and help draw big ratings.” ■

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.