NCAA March Madness Tourney Generating Record Ad Sales, Execs Say

De'Andre Hunter #12 of the Virginia Cavaliers scores against the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the 2019 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 8, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
CBS and Turner have signed up 100 advertisers for the NCAA Men's basketball tournament (Image credit: Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is inspiring March Madness among sponsors and generating record advertising revenue for CBS and Turner Sports.

“We’re virtually sold out,” said John Bogusz, executive VP, sports sales and marketing, CBS Network Sales, speaking on a call with reporters Wednesday. 

Bogusz said that for the big ticket items, all of the commercials in one of the Final Four games are already spoken for, and there are only a couple of units left in the other Final Four games and the championship game.

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A handful of spots are being reserved in case the trend to lower ratings seen in college basketball so far this year, as well as in the Super Bowl and the NBA All Star game also impacts the tournament, he said.

But ad sales at higher prices than last year have produced record revenue, said Jon Diament, executive VP, chief revenue officer, Turner Sports.

During the 2019 tournament, CBS and Turner Sports generated an estimated $655.1 million in ad revenue, according to Standard Media Index.

Diament said several new corporate sponsors signed up, helping to boost the revenue total. The new partner level sponsors are Aflac, Invesco and Great Clips.

Invesco and Great Clips actually signed up for last year’s tournament, which was one of the first events canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Aflac is brand new this year.

The Champion-level sponsors for the tournament are AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola. The partner level sponsors are Aflac, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buick, GEICO, Great Clips, Invesco, Lowe’s, Marriott, Nabisco, Nissan, Pizza Hut, Reese’s, Uber Eats, Unilever, and Wendy’s.

Those are generally multi-year deals, which means the event is nearly half sold out when CBS and Turner sales people hit the street each year. Those sponsorships include integrated media, marketing rights, activations and hospitality.

The big categories driving increased spending this year are insurance, auto, telecom, financial services and restaurants.

After the pandemic, both quick service and casual dining restaurants are advertising again, Diament said.

A couple of movie studios are also advertising plus streaming services, including Paramount Plus from CBS parent company ViacomCBS, which was a big Super Bowl advertiser, and HBO Max from Turner parent AT&T.

While ratings have been challenged for linear networks, spending on sports has continued to be good, said Bogusz. Diament added that Turner has been seeing record-setting revenue for its NBA season.

During the games, viewers will see new, custom contextual ads, many featuring the networks’ sports talent; in-game branding during marquee moments and commentary, made-for-TV moments and amplified social moments.

In all, 100 different advertisers will be involved in the tournament and about 90% of the advertisers buying linear ads will also be on digital platforms including NCAA March Madness Live.  

“We’re starting to see more of a trend of folks coming in and buying their inventory earlier because they’re concerned about  getting blocked out of the prime positions,” Diament added.

One thing that will make this year’s tournament different is smaller out-of-home viewership with fewer people watching in bars and in offices. For the past few years, out-of-home viewing has been included in the audience numbers on which ad sales are based.

“We expect the Nielsen number to reflect strong viewership at home,” Diament said. “There won’t be a need for a boss button.”

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.