Skip to main content

Pacing Ahead of Last Year, CBS/Turner 'Virtually Sold Out' of Madness Ad Inventory

The 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, airing on CBS
and Turner's TNT, TBS, and truTV, is "virtually sold out" of all TV commercial
inventory for the tournament that begins on March 19, according to sales execs
from CBS and Turner, who place the sellout level at about 97%-98%.

"We are extremely tight right now," says John Bogusz,
executive VP, sports sales and marketing at CBS. "We are tighter this year than
we were last year at this point," when the sellout level was at about 95%, he

The Final Four games on Saturday, April 6 and the National
Championship game on Monday, April 8, are sold out except for possible floater
ads, meaning if an additional number of timeouts happen to be called during any
of the games, then advertisers could be squeezed in. But Bogusz says the goal
is to avoid signing up advertisers who might not wind up getting into the

Bogusz says there are a set number of commercials that can
be sold during each game, a number decided upon by the NCAA that he wouldn't
specify. But for the final weekend's telecasts, "it will be a struggle to find
any available commercial time."

Currently, the available commercial inventory is in the
earlier round telecasts, including the daytime games. Jon Diament, executive
VP, Turner Sports ad sales and marketing, adds, "What's left is probably not in
the highest rated windows. Demand has been high and it is just very tight."

Diament says the digital windows are also very well sold,
pointing out that most of the advertisers who bought TV time were also sold
digital ad inventory.

The heavy sellout level is not only due to the popularity of
the tournament and the telecasts, but also because many of the advertisers
either have multiyear deals or made their investments earlier than last year.

Bogusz and Diament both say returning advertisers without
multiyear deals began committing to this year's tournament much earlier than
last year and with larger investments.

"For major events like this, advertisers have to plant their
flags early," Bogusz says. To which Diament adds, "Investment by our corporate
sponsors has never been this strong and multiyear advertisers know they can get
guaranteed placements in the windows they want if they commit early."

Strong demand means price hikes are inevitable and marketers
in this year's tournament paid an average of just under 10% more per unit than
last year. "We aren't getting double-digit increases but were very close," says

While the network sales execs would not discuss specific ad
unit pricing, sources familiar with the sales say commercials in the opening
round games have sold for about $100,000 per 30-second spot, while commercials
in the regional finals sold for between $650,000 and $750,000. Advertisers paid
about $1.7 million for a commercial in the April 8 championship game.

Sales staffs for CBS and Turner jointly sold the ad
inventory like they have since the partnership began three years ago.

Kantar Media has reported that last year, CBS/Turner took in
just north of $1 billion in ad revenue for the tournament. While Bogusz and
Diament would not comment on that figure, other sources familiar with the
tournament ad sales say the number is overstated and that the actual take last
year was closer to $800 million, with this year's number in the $900-million

Digital ad sales for the tournament, which are broken out
separately, will reach about $70 million this year.

There is one new major ad partner for this year's tournament
telecasts-Buffalo Wild Wings. The fast food chain joins other official tournament
partners that include Allstate, Buick, Enterprise, Infiniti, LG, Lowe's,
Nabisco, Northwestern Mutual, Hershey, Unilever and UPS.

Official championship-level sponsors include AT&T, Coca-Cola
and Capital One.

Diament says the ad partners and championship level sponsors
all get customized packages with myriad cross-platform elements.

While Bogusz and Diament would not discuss specific
advertiser packages or investments, Northwestern Mutual, which signed a
long-term deal to become an ad partner last year, announced this week that it
was stepping up its investment even more in the tournament.

In addition to sponsoring assorted live events surrounding
the games, Northwestern Mutual will spend more dollars on commercials across
the tournament telecasts, as well as for Web and mobile advertising on the live
streaming of the games digitally. And for the second straight year, the company
will serve as presenting sponsor of the "First Four" games on truTV, played on
March 19 and 20.

All the games will be streamed live digitally and viewers
will be able to watch both the CBS and Turner network games for free. Turner
subscribers will need to go through an authentication process to watch the
games it streams digitally for free.

Tech Leads the Way

Categories showing the largest increases in ad investments,
according to Bogusz, are technology, fast food restaurants, insurance/financial
and movies. "We also got some new business in these categories," Bogusz says.
Meanwhile, just about every major automaker has again bought time in the

Diament says there have been more non-traditional sports
marketers coming into the tournament telecasts, particularly in the packaged
goods category.

Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors will once again share the
beer category, for which the NCAA sets a commercial limit.

Ratings guarantees like always are based on an advertiser's
entire package of games. There are no individual game ratings guarantees. And
also like last year, the same commercial load will run for each advertiser in
windows on each of the networks' game telecasts. For example, if there are four
games each on CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV during a weekend, an advertiser will have
the same number of commercials in each of the networks' telecasts.

CBS and the Turner networks will televise all 67 of the
tournament's games. Infiniti will sponsor the Infiniti NCAA Tip-Off
pregame shows, AT&T will sponsor all the AT&T at the Half shows,
Capital One will sponsor the Capital One Tournament Central and Buick will
be the presenting sponsor of the Inside March Madness post-game shows.

Turner networks will televise 41 games (16 on TBS, 12 on TNT
and 13 on truTV) while CBS will broadcast 26 games, including the Final Four
semifinal games and the National Championship game.

With ad sales as strong as they have been for
this year's tournament telecasts, the advice for those advertisers that may
have been shut out is: buy early next year. Bogusz says there are currently
some ad partnerships available for next year's tournament.