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TBS Primes the Pump for Its First Final Four

Turner net’s marketing push designed to help fans break a 32-year habit

Aaron Harrison #2 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball over Luke Hancock #11 of the Louisville Cardinals Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As TBS gears up to host its first-ever Final Four, the Turner network is pulling out all the stops on the promotional front. In a sense, the TBS marketing team’s challenge is to effectively help fans break a 32-year habit, inasmuch as the national semifinals have aired on CBS since 1982.

To most effectively get the message out, TBS is basically executing a full-court press, planting promos on-air, online, in movie theaters, on radio, in print and out-of-home. “We take a ‘surround sound’ approach; it’s never about one platform or one touch point,” said Christina Miller, svp & general manager, Turner Sports strategy, marketing and programming. “Whether you’re in New York and you see a sign on one of our 100 taxicabs or you’re down in the subway and you pass one of our digital billboards or, say, you go to the movies to see Captain America or Noah or Muppets Most Wanted, there are multiple opportunities to engage with our promotion.”

While the various executions are literally too numerous to list, suffice it to say that the usual suspects are all in play. There are linear spots running in heavy rotation on TBS, TNT, truTV, CNN and HLN, a color strip ad in Friday morning’s USA Today, digital out-of-home displays in 31 markets, and an integration with NCAA.com.

On game day (Saturday, April 5), TBS will tap a number of digital outlets, including Xbox, Pandora, YouTube, Spotify, Facebook and Twitter. A day-long homepage takeover of the USA Today site is also set to tip off tomorrow morning.

Saturday also marks the debut of TBS’ Teamcast coverage, which is designed to super-serve diehard fans of Florida, UConn, Kentucky and Wisconsin. Along with the national broadcast on TBS, which reaches 98.6 million households, Turner will simulcast each game on two of its other networks. For example, when the Huskies and Gators square off in the first game, a Florida-centric telecast will run on TNT while a UConn-friendly presentation can be seen on truTV. The same applies to the 8:49 p.m. EDT game (Wildcats-Badgers).

Whereas the primary telecast will feature CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz and Greg Anthony and TNT’s Steve Kerr, the Teamcast games will be called by announcers with ties to a particular team. For example, the UConn truTV simulcast will be called by CSN New England’s Eric Frede and former Huskies small forward Donny Marshall.

Along with catering to each team’s fan base, the Teamcast coverage promises to generate some incremental ad sales revenue for Turner and CBS.

“We’d love to see some ratings come out of it, no doubt, but the Teamcast concept is really all about our desire to continue to innovate the broadcast,” Miller said. “We’ve been doing the tournament for four years now and are always looking to expand our coverage.”

Savvy observers don’t believe the simulcasts are a cynical ploy to squeeze out a few more bucks from advertisers. “I think it’s really just a matter of them trying to add a little something to the Final Four experience,” said Larry Mann, evp, business development and media at the Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency rEvolution. “It’s not a money-grab deal—if anything, they’re offering a little something extra for their clients, which is always appreciated.” 

The 2013 Final Four averaged 15.7 million viewers and a 9.4 household rating, up 3 percent from the previous year. Louisville-Wichita State drew 14.5 million viewers and an 8.7 HH rating in the early window, while Michigan-Syracuse scared up 17.1 million fans and a 10.2 HH rating.

Per Kantar Media, Turner and CBS together raked in $1.15 billion in March Madness ad sales revenue, marking the second consecutive year the two partners generated a 10-figure haul. The college hoops tourney beat out the NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl ($1.1 billion) and the NBA Playoffs and Championship Series ($929 million) for bragging rights as TV’s most lucrative sporting event.

For what it’s worth, insiders say that the Kantar estimates are just a tiny bit inflated.

The average price of a 30-second spot in the April 8, 2013 championship game on CBS was $1.42 million, up 6 percent from the prior year. The top advertisers in last season’s tournament were General Motors, which invested $80.7 million, AT&T ($70 million), Anheuser-Busch InBev ($38.9 million), Coca-Cola ($37 million) and Capital One ($36.8 million). All but A-B are official NCAA sponsors. AT&T, Coke and Capital One are official NCAA Corporate Champions, a term that denotes the three elite sponsors that invest north of $35 million per year for the privilege of aligning themselves with college athletics.

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