CBS Sees March Madness Rebound

Despite a sharp cutback by automaker General Motors, CBS has sold more than 90 percent of the available ad time for its coverage of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s men’s basketball tournament. Both pricing and total sales are up compared to last year, per the network, although that’s coming off a recession year when pricing was flat and total sales for the March Madness tourney were down.
GM, which continues to regroup after emerging from its well-publicized bankruptcy proceeding last year, has cut its commitment to the tournament, which runs from March 16 to April 5, by roughly half to $25 million, per sources.
John Bogusz, evp, sales and marketing, CBS Sports, would only confirm that GM is a tournament advertiser this year and that it no longer has domestic exclusivity in the category. He referred all other questions about GM’s participation in the tourney to the client.
A GM rep confirmed that the company has dropped its sponsorship for the NCAA for 2010 and that as result there would be a reduced spending commitment for the tournament. “A lot of sponsorships went by the wayside” as a result of GM’s Chapter 11 filing and reorganization, the rep said, adding that GM is still in the process of “rebuilding our marketing activities for the future.”
The rep also noted that the Pontiac brand, which in the past had been a big part of the March Madness sponsorship, has been discontinued.
Meanwhile, the network has signed Nissan and some domestic car brands as new advertisers, Bogusz confirmed, adding that he could not yet identify the American makes. In addition, Toyota, Mercedes and Audi have all re-upped, in some cases at higher spending levels. “The imports are picking it up,” said Bogusz.
Several advertisers in other categories are stepping up to NCAA “official partner” status, with increased spending commitments, including LG, Kraft and Capital One. They join returning sponsors Enterprise car rental, State Farm Insurance, Lowe’s and The Hartford.
AT&T and Coca-Cola are returning as “corporate champions,” the highest NCAA sponsorship level in CBS’ NCAA coverage.

Ad prices for the tournament escalate sharply from the opening round, where spots can be had for under $100,000, to the championship game, where 30-second units cost a little over $1.2 million.
Bogusz said there were “scattered avails” throughout the tournament. Like the Olympics, the sales effort continues throughout the event, which lasts three weeks. There are still ads available for the coverage of the games between the final four teams and the championship telecast, “but the inventory is tight,” said Bogusz.
The total revenue take for last year’s tournament was estimated to be $410 million, down about 5 percent. Bogusz wouldn’t confirm exact figures, but said this year’s total is expected be up by “high-single digits,” on a percentage basis, with price increases in the mid-single-digit range.
Bogusz said that selling the tournament this year has been helped by the fact that the worst of the recession is over, coupled with a recent ratings surge for big event TV. Both the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics had sharply higher audiences this year, he noted. “I’m glad I’m selling sports,” he said.