MBPT Spotlight: CBS, Turner Say Some Ad Avails Remain for NCAA Championship Weekend

The 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, which begins with a full slate of games Thursday on CBS and Turner’s TBS, TNT and truTV, is about 95% sold out of all TV commercial inventory, but marketers can still buy spots in the regional finals and championship weekend, including the finals on Monday night, April 7.

While the network sales execs would not discuss specific ad unit pricing, sources familiar with March Madness sales say commercial units in the regional finals are selling in the $650,000 to $750,000 range, while 30-second spots in the Monday night championship game are selling in the range of $1.5 million.

John Bogusz, executive VP of sports sales and marketing at CBS, says the TV sellout level is about the same as two years ago at this point and slightly behind last year heading into the tournament.

“Sales for this year’s tournament have been a little bit slower than last year because of a greater amount of competition at this time of year for sports advertising dollars, both with the Olympics telecast and the Super Bowl taking place in New York City,” Bogusz says. “So we’re open for business and continuing to sell, but we’re pleased at the sellout level we’ve reached so far.”

Bogusz says most of the advertising for the tournament is sold as part of packages with ratings guarantees given for the total packages. He said ad rates are up in the mid-to-high single digits for this year’s tournament.

Sales staff for CBS and Turner jointly sold the ad inventory for both the TV telecasts and the online components as they have since the network partnership began four years ago. Jon Diament, executive VP of Turner Sports ad sales and marketing, says online sales opportunities are sold out.

This year, for the first time, the two semifinal games will be televised on TBS instead of CBS, with CBS televising the championship game. In another new twist, both semifinal games will also be televised on TNT and truTV in what is being billed as “Teamcast.” Viewers will be able to watch the regular telecasts on TBS while the telecasts on the two other networks will feature team-specific coverage tailored to fans’ favorite teams. The commercials in all three will be the same.

Burger King has signed up as a new year-round NCAA partner and has been running a campaign tied into the tournament, offering in-store specials and promoting a contest with assorted giveaways including flat-screen TVs and tickets to the Final Four weekend.

Bogusz says there are several new advertisers in the tournament but because many of them are breaking new creative, they asked that they not be identified.

Diament says there are between 60 and 80 advertisers in the telecasts of the 67 games, but a sizable portion of the inventory is bought by NCAA Corporate Champions and Corporate Partners. The Corporate Champions list includes AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola. The Corporate Partners include Allstate, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buick, Burger King, Enterprise, Infiniti, LG, Lowe’s, Nabisco, Northwestern Mutual, Hershey’s Reese’s, Unilever and UPS.

There is no category exclusivity in the tournament telecasts, but Corporate Champions and Corporate Partners are able to take part in various marketing activations, including using Turner’s NCAA Tournament coverage on-air talent.

Chris Webber is part of a Burger King campaign and Capital One will utilize former NBA stars and Turner analysts Charles Barkley and Greg Anthony in commercials to air during the tournament.

Put It in Brackets

Dove Men+Care, a Unilever brand, sponsored National Bracket Day for the first time. On Monday, fan fests sponsored by the brand were held at locations in New York City; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Chicago and Los Angeles to help fans prepare their brackets for the tournament. And the brand’s new “Easy Decision” campaign includes a video series featuring NBA coach Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers and college coach Jay Wright of Villanova.

The three NCAA Corporate Champions, AT&T, Coke and Capital One, will return as sponsors of the NCAA March Madness Music Festival, a three-day event in the Final Four city of Dallas. AT&T will sponsor the Friday, April 4 Block Party at which Jason Aldean will perform. At the Coke Zero Countdown Concert on Saturday, April 5, Tim McGraw and rock band The Killers will perform. And on Sunday, April 6, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will highlight the Capital One Jam Fest.

Diament says to get the on-air talent on board, Turner sales folks have multifaceted discussions with the marketers to find out how they want to use them, consulting with the NCAA and with the representatives of the talent. “We coordinate all the pieces and put them together,” Diament says.

In order to have Turner make its on-air talent available for commercial appearances, it needs to be for a marketer who is planning to spend a significant amount of commercial ad dollars during the tournament, Diament says.

“Most of the marketers we do those types of deals with are also multiyear advertisers because there needs to be a large amount of lead time to get everything put together,” Diament adds.

CBS this year will broadcast 22 games throughout the tournament, including the National Championship game. Turner will air 47 game telecasts, with TBS televising 20 games, truTV televising 14 games and TNT airing 13 games.

CBS Sports and Turner Sports will again present integrated game and studio productions across the four networks with joint talent and pregame, halftime, bridge and postgame shows from CBS studios in New York and Turner studios in Atlanta.

Sponsors will include Infiniti for the pregame shows, AT&T for the halftime shows, Capital One hosting “Tournament Central” and Buick hosting the postgame shows.

For the third straight year, Northwestern Mutual is serving as presenting sponsor of the “First Four” games on truTV, two of which were played on Tuesday, March 18 and two that will be played on Wednesday, March 19.

All the games will be streamed live digitally and viewers will be able to watch both the CBS and Turner networks’ games for free. In some instances, viewers will need to go through an authentication process to watch the streams digitally for free.

While the networks’ sports ad sales chiefs would not discuss digital ad revenue, sources familiar with the sales believe the sponsored digital components will bring in about $70 million from marketers.

While not confirming the ad dollar total, Diament says as the number of smartphone and tablet users continues to grow, more viewers will be watching the tournament’s games digitally at various times and marketers want to be sure to reach them also.

Last year’s NCAA tournament across the four networks averaged 10.7 million viewers per telecast, up 11% from 2012 and the highest average in 19 years. The two semifinal games on CBS averaged 15.7 million, up 3% from 2012, while the National Championship Game on CBS averaged 23.4 million viewers, up 12% from 2012.