CBS Sports and Turner Sports on Thursday unveiled the talent roster for their joint coverage of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, which tips off Tuesday, March 15.
Turner’s truTV will carry the first four games of the tourney, with CBS veterans Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg calling Tuesday’s action alongside Turner’s Steve Kerr. Tracy Wolfson will report from courtside. Gus Johnson and Len Elmore will handle play-by-play and analysis for the two Wednesday contests, while Turner’s Craig Sager will stalk the sidelines.
Splitting hosting duties, Greg Gumbel and Ernie Johnson will steer CBS and Turner’s studio coverage from New York. Joining the anchors are NBA on TNT studio analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith and CBS’ Greg Anthony. Reggie Miller and Seth Davis will join the rotation in week two of March Madness.
Matt Winer will host the studio coverage from Turner’s Atlanta facility, with assists from Davis and Steve Smith.
Nantz, Kellogg, Kerr and Wolfson will also lead the charge for the Final Four twin bill and the April 4 national title game, all of which will air on CBS.
“This is as deep a talent roster as there is anywhere in sports television,” said CBS Sports president Sean McManus. “It will make for a remarkable range of expertise and entertainment throughout this great event, from tip-off on truTV to the crowning of a new champion on CBS Sports for the 30th straight year.”
In accordance with the terms of the $10.8 billion deal hashed out in April 2010, CBS and Turner will share the rights to televise March Madness through 2025. All opening-round through Sweet 16 games will be shown in their entirety on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, marking the first time fans will be able to watch every game on their tourney brackets.
Through the first five years of the partnership, CBS will cover the Final Four and the title game. Beginning in 2016, coverage of the regional finals will be split by CBS and Turner, with the Final Four and national championship games alternating every year between the broadcaster and TBS.
Games carried by CBS and the three cable networks will feature uniform logos, titles and musical treatments, which should go a long way toward ensuring a consistent, seamless presentation.
While Turner is no stranger to high-profile competition––TNT boasts a comprehensive NBA package as well as a slate of Nascar races, and TBS is the home to five of Major League Baseball’s six playoff series––the closest truTV has come to carrying live sports was when it aired the short-lived documentary series NFL Full Contact. That said, CBS has hosted the tournament since 1982, and that wealth of experience will be brought to bear on each telecast.
“It’s our first attempt, but we see this as an opportunity to drive new viewers to truTV,” said David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports, Turner Broadcasting System. “With a property like the NCAA tournament, people are going to find it, no matter where it is on the dial. Beyond that, we think truTV is a good fit, given that it skews about 65 percent male.”
TNT and TBS both reach north of 101 million subs, or roughly 88 percent of all U.S. TV households. TruTV is in 93 million homes.
CBS and Turner are sharing all expenses and revenues associated with the tournament. When the deal was first announced last spring, sources suggested that Turner would shoulder a greater portion of the rights fee in exchange for a bigger wedge of the ad sales pie.
Although he declined to go into great detail about the ad sales picture, Levy said the unified efforts of CBS and Turner have already surpassed early expectations. “We are pacing way ahead of where we thought we’d be,” Levy said, adding that March Madness sales have been boosted by a particularly robust sports TV market. As has been the case with pro and college football sales, the automotive and insurance categories are booming for basketball.
Per Kantar Media analysis, the NCAA tourney is the second most lucrative post-season sports franchise in terms of national TV ad revenue, trailing only the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl. Despite the ravages of the recession, CBS in 2009 notched $589 million in March Madness revenue. In the past decade, CBS’ tourney coverage has generated $4.55 billion in ad sales.
Each year, the tournament accommodates anywhere between 80 to 100 on-air sponsors. General Motors outspent the rest of the field in 2009, investing some $70.9 million in March Madness inventory, while runner-up AT&T pitched in $34.7 million.