Show Me the Moneyball: March Madness Generates $1 Billion in Ad Sales

Kantar Media study puts college hoops at the head of the class

Arguably the most spellbinding three weeks in sports, the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship now stands as the most lucrative postseason advertising juggernaut.

According to a new report from Kantar Media, March Madness last year scared up more ad dollars for CBS and Turner Sports than the respective playoffs and championship series for the National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League. From March 13 to April 2, 2012, CBS and the Turner nets (TNT, TBS, truTV) generated just over $1 billion in tournament ad sales revenue.

Kantar’s figures do not take into account the $60 million in digital inventory sold by CBS and Turner.

Last year’s haul put March Madness over the top for the first time. Per Kantar estimates, the college hoops tourney just edged the aggregate ad spend in the NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl ($976.3 million), while handily outearning the two-month NBA postseason ($536.9 million) and October baseball on TBS and Fox ($354.1 million). The 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs generated around $101.1 million in ad sales revenue.

The 2012 tourney marked the second year of the 14-year CBS-Turner collaboration. Since the partners began broadcasting all 67 March Madness games live, ad spending has soared 64 percent from $614 million in 2010.

Including pre- and postgame coverage, CBS-Turner’s live March Madness coverage attracted 85 unique advertisers. Nearly every major auto manufacturer was represented in the 2012 tourney, a roster that included Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes, Nissan and Volkswagen. GM was the biggest spender last year, investing $80.3 million in tourney TV inventory.

NCAA corporate sponsors also show up in force. Among these are a pair of auto marques (GM’s Buick and Nissan’s Infiniti) and two insurance companies (Allstate and Northwestern Mutual). AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola serve as “NCAA Corporate Champions,” a select cadre of top-tier sponsors that invest north of $35 million per year for the privilege of aligning themselves with the tourney.

While the average cost any individual advertiser pays is directly proportional to how far into the tournament its package extends, the cost of a 30-second spot predictably increases as the field of 64 gets whittled down to the Final Four. Last year, the unit cost for time in the opening rounds was roughly $100,000 a pop, while the rate for a :30 in the Sweet 16 jumped to as much as $350,000.

A 30-second spot in the Final Four commanded as much as $700,000, while the average unit cost for the national championship game was $1.34 million, per Kantar. (Media buyers said that some spots sold for as much as $1.45 million each.) The price of a spot in last year’s title tilt marks an 8 percent increase from the 2011 final.

To put the value of the NCAA Championship Game in perspective, the cost of a spot in the 2012 AFC Championship Game on CBS and the NFC Championship Game on Fox was $1.46 million. That same year, NBC secured around $3.5 million for each 30-second increment of time in its Super Bowl XLVI broadcast.

Other top draws are the BCS title game on ESPN ($1.14 million per :30), the MLB All-Star Game on Fox ($550,000), the NBA Finals on ABC ($460,000) and the World Series on Fox ($450,000). 

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