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College Football Playoff Quickly Becomes a TV and Social Media Power Player

Real-time marketers are waking up to the new 'big game'

Oregon's Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota Photo: Getty Images

College football, which culminates Monday night with its first playoff championship game, is either in the process of building its own version of the Super Bowl or is setting the stage for a much bigger version of March Madness.

The NCAA's inaugural football playoff—which consisted of a pair of semifinal games on Jan. 1—drew more than 28 million households on ESPN, making the contests the two most-viewed cable TV programs of all time. Those numbers easily bested last year's college basketball Final Four (18 million households) and are roughly equal with the 2014 Grammys. Ads for ESPN's playoff games cost between $800,000 to $1 million for a 30-second spot, up 25 percent from last year's record shattering rates. (Advertisers for the title game include mobile gaming company Supercell, AT&T and General Motors, according to an exec with knowledge of the deals.) Only the Super Bowl, the NFL playoffs and the Oscars will likely tower above college football in the TV ratings game for the remainder of the year. 

But when it comes to social media, just Allstate and Dr Pepper, which were ESPN advertisers on New Year's Day, approached the playoff with the same kind of real-time vigor typically reserved for TV's biggest events. Both brands tweeted dozens of times that day while also posting via Facebook and Instagram. Their results—which can be viewed in the adjacent column—will likely give social marketers reason to rethink their strategies for collegiate pigskin's postseason.

"More brands will treat the football playoffs next year like they do the NCAA basketball tournament—as an opportunity to create conversation throughout the entire playoffs," noted digital marketing consultant David Deal.

Next year? How about during Monday's national championship game? Don't be surprised to see marketers hit send the second Ohio State and Oregon kick off. The game is widely expected to become the new No. 1 cable telecast of all time.

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