It’s been nearly 20 years since deliveries for the NCAA Div. I Men’s Basketball Championship Game last surpassed the 30 million-viewer mark, and yet despite cooling down somewhat, March Madness remains one of the most lucrative sports franchises on TV.
According to new research from Kantar Media, the annual three-week hoops tournament is the second biggest postseason sports showcase for advertisers, out-earning the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series, the National Basketball Association playoffs and Championship Series, and all 35 college football bowl games.
Over the course of its 29th consecutive March Madness tourney, CBS in 2010 took in $613.8 million in ad sales revenue, marking an increase of 4 percent from the prior year’s haul of $588.7 million. Last year’s take nearly surpassed the all-time high set by CBS during the 2008 tourney. Closing out with Kansas’ 75-68 win over Memphis, the 2008 dance brought in a record $643.2 million.
Only the National Football League playoff and Super Bowl broadcasts took in more sponsor dollars last year. According to Kantar, the 2010 NFL postseason churned up around $793.8 million in ad revenue for the league’s broadcast partners. That said, March Madness easily eclipsed the deciding series for both the NBA and MLB, as the former generated $417.7 million in ad sales, while baseball’s playoffs and Fall Classic attracted $345.3 million.
College football’s bowl season finished last on the list of top-tier postseason sports tentpoles, as the collection of games broadcast in December 2009 and January 2010 took in $318.9 million in ad sales.
In the period spanning 2001-10, CBS generated some $4.85 billion in March Madness ad sales. Per Kantar, the last decade saw 281 advertisers invest in CBS’ coverage of the tournament.
Pricing for a spot in the NCAA title game has been fairly consistent over the last five years. CBS in 2010 charged marketers around $1.22 million for a 30-second spot in the championship game, essentially flat versus the previous three years. Per Kantar, CBS was able to name its price in 2007, when the network took in $1.26 million per ad.
Automotive is the biggest contributor to the kitty, as car manufacturers accounted for approximately 17 percent of the ad dollars generated by March Madness 2010. General Motors was far and away the most committed client, putting up $47.2 million to sponsor last year’s tourney. The automaker is back again this year, as its Buick marque has signed on as the presenting sponsor of a new March Madness postgame show to air on truTV and TBS.
Other big spenders include AT&T ($35 million a year ago), Coca-Cola ($25.3 million), Capital One ($24.2 million) and Hewlett-Packard ($21.8 million).
While the online March Madness On Demand feature continues to grow in popularity—office drones are particularly happy to stream live game coverage during the first hectic week of bracket-busting action—the dollars have been slow to catch up. Of the $613.8 million in total ad revenue CBS took in over the course of the three weeks a year ago, a mere 5.7 percent, or $37 million, was generated by the online video player.
According to CBS Sports, the MMOD app last year served up 8.3 million unique visitors, up 11 percent from 2009. Compared to the uniques generated during the 2008 tourney, last year’s usage was up a whopping 73 percent.
Although last year’s Duke-Butler final drew 23.9 million viewers, making it the most watched championship game since 2005, deliveries haven’t approached the heights of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. The last time a final broke the 30 million viewer mark was 1994 when Arkansas shocked Duke, 76-72. Per Nielsen, CBS’ broadcast averaged 32.7 million viewers.
The most watched capper in NCAA history was broadcast on March, 26, 1979. In a game that would prefigure their storied NBA rivalry, Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s Michigan State outlasted Larry Bird and Indiana State, 75-64, in front of a national TV audience of 35.1 million viewers. That was one of the last title games presented by NBC, as CBS assumed the rights to the tournament in 1982.
The 2011 tourney marks the first time in the 73-year history of the event that fans will be able to catch every game live. Last April, Turner Sports and CBS announced they had made a joint bid for the NCAA’s marquee event, beating out ESPN with a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal.
Beginning March 15, Turner will tip off March Madness on its truTV network. TBS, TNT and CBS will then pick up the thread, with the broadcast net hosting the title game through 2016. At that point, CBS and TBS will begin sharing coverage of the Final Four, while alternating stewardship of the championship game.
Sales for the first joint NCAA tourney have been a cooperative effort. According to sources in both camps, CBS and Turner Sports are all but sold out of in-game and digital inventory, with pricing for the Final Four weekend up sharply from a year ago.