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MBPT Spotlight: CBS, Turner Say They’ve Taken In Record Amount Of Ad Dollars For NCAA Men’s Championship Tournament

The start of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tournament is less than a week away and CBS and Turner, who’ll provide live coverage of all 67 games, are between 96%-97% sold out of all TV commercial inventory—having taken in a record amount of ad revenue. In addition to the near sellout of TV ad time, all digital ad avails have been sold out.

John Bogusz, executive VP of sports sales and marketing at CBS, while not disclosing what that total ad revenue is, says it’s about 10% more than what was taken in last year at this point. He says about 2% more inventory has been sold at unit prices that are up by mid- to upper-single digits over last year.

The network sales execs would not discuss specific ad unit pricing, but sources familiar with March Madness sales say commercial units in the regional finals games on TBS have been selling in the $700,000-$800,000 range, while 30-second spots in the Monday night, April 6 final have been selling in the range of $1.6 million.

Bogusz says the first week is “tight” as far as remaining commercial avails go, and the final weekend doubleheader and Monday championship game are “extremely tight.” The middle-week telecasts have more avails, he says.

As for digital, every game will be streamed across all digital platforms and Jon Diament, executive VP of Turner Sports ad sales, says about $85 million in digital ads have been sold, about 20% more than last year.

“With the ability to watch the games on their smartphones and tablets, people don’t have to sit in front of their desktops anymore, so they can watch from anywhere,” Diament says. That fact makes the digital feeds more attractive to advertisers.

Digital viewing of the tournament has been increasing each year. The two semifinal games last year netted 3.8 million live streams, an increase of 76% over 2013. And the doubleheader also combined to register more than 1 million hours of live video consumers, up 37% over 2013.

Clear Ad Picture

One factor helping to bring in more ad revenue this year is that the tournament has not had to compete with the Winter Olympics for marketer ad dollars. However, Bogusz says viewers continue to flock to live sports and the NCAA tournament draws an audience that is younger and more upscale.

This is the fifth year that CBS and Turner have partnered in jointly selling ad inventory for both the TV and digital components. For the second year, the two semifinal games (this year on Saturday, April 4) will be televised on TBS instead of CBS, with CBS again televising the championship game.

For the second year, both semifinal games will also be televised on Turner’s TNT and truTV in what is called “Teamcasts.” Viewers will be able to watch the regular telecast on TBS while the telecasts on the other two networks will feature team-specific coverage tailored to fans’ favorite teams. Announcers will be different, but the commercials in all three will be the same and the ratings will be combined for advertiser ratings guarantee purposes.

About 40% of the ad dollars taken in for the tournament come from the NCAA Corporate Champions and Corporate Partners. The Corporate Champions include AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola. The Corporate Partners include Allstate, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buick, Burger King, Enterprise, Kindle (Amazon), Infiniti, LG Electronics USA, Lowe’s Nabisco, Northwestern Mutual, Reese’s (Hershey), Unilever and UPS. Plus there’s a new Corporate Sponsor this year—Microsoft’s Bing, which has advertised during the regular season and will also have a presence in the tournament.

The other 60% of the dollars come from a wide base of marketers. Bogusz says the auto category “by far” has the most advertisers during the tournament, with other strong categories and ad spending coming in telecom, fast food, tech and financial/insurance.

While Coke, Hershey and Unilever are NCAA sponsors and will be major advertisers in the tournament, there are a limited number of packaged goods advertisers. Bogusz says, “We’d like to have more.” Another category missing in the tournament telecasts is pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that’s a result of the younger median age audience for the tournament. Beer advertisers are limited, but that category is regulated by the NCAA.

Sponsors are all returning for the pregame, halftime, bridge and postgame shows that will be televised from CBS studios in New York and Turner studios in Atlanta. Infiniti will host the pregame shows, AT&T the halftime shows, Capital One will sponsor Tournament Central in between games and Buick will host the postgame shows.

For the fourth straight year, Northwestern Mutual will serve as presenting sponsor of the “First Four” games on truTV, two of which will be played on Tuesday, March 17 with the other two being played on Wednesday, March 18.

Bogusz says much like in last year’s tournament, several advertisers will be breaking new creative campaigns. “This is a time of year where many marketers launch new products and campaigns and the tournament telecasts are a perfect place to do it.”

CBS will broadcast 22 games throughout the tournament, including games in the second and third rounds, the sweet 16, elite 8 and the National Championship game.

Turner will air 49 game telecasts across its three networks. TBS will televise 20 games, including games in the second and third rounds, the sweet 16, elite 8 and the two semifinal games.

TNT will televise 14 games, including second and third round games, and a semifinal TeamCast game.

Also, truTV will televise 15 games, including the first four games, some second and third round games and a semifinal TeamCast game.

For this year’s tournament, NCAA Digital, managed by Turner Sports, has launched the NCAA March Madness YouTube channel that will feature real-time highlights and video recaps from all 67 games. It will also include live press conferences, game previews and analysis and daily news from the tournament.

Some of the content and its sponsors include: Dunk of the Day presented by Oreo; Naismith Trophy presented by AT&T; Solve of the Day presented by UPS; and Starting Lineup presented by Reese’s.

The three NCAA Corporate Champions, AT&T, Coke and Capital One, will again sponsor the NCAA March Madness Music Festival, a three-day outdoor event in the downtown area of the Final Four city of Indianapolis.

AT&T will sponsor the Friday, April 3 Block Party from 3 p.m.-10 p.m. The Coke Zero Countdown will be held from noon to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 4. Capital One will sponsor the JamFest from 2 p.m.-10 p.m. on Sunday, April 5, and Capital One will also sponsor the four-day Fan Fest, an indoor, interactive event with all sorts of activities for fans and appearances by athletes. Other NCAA Corporate Partners will have activations at the Fan Fest.

Last year’s NCAA tournament across the four networks averaged 10.5 million viewers per telecast, just about flat from the 2013 average of 10.7 per telecast. The two semifinal games on TBS averaged 11.7 million and 16.2 million (making them the two most-watched college basketball games ever on cable), down from the 14.4 million and 17.1 million, respectively, that the two games averaged on CBS in 2013, while the National Championship Game on CBS averaged 21.2 million viewers, down 9% from the 23.4 million that watched in 2013.