By Barry Janoff
March 9, 2016: All of the phrases that captivate fans, athletes, consumers, marketers, CBS and Turner Sports for more than three weeks are here, including Selection Sunday, bracket busters, The Big Dance, Sweet 16, the Road to Houston and the two trademarked NCAA big daddies of them all, March Madness and Final Four.
Since 2005, the NCAA Div. I Men's Basketball Tournament has generated more than $8.7 billion in marketing, promotions and related activations from nearly 300 different marketers, according to research and marketing firm Kantar Media, NY.
That's not counting the 14-year, $10.8 billion deal that CBS Sports and Turner Sports co-signed with the NCAA in 2010 for joint broadcast coverage, sales and marketing of the Men's Div. I basketball tournament.
"Entering the sixth year of our 14-year deal, we have exceeded all expectations, including revenue, sales, marketing, ratings and digital," said David Levy, president for Turner Sports.
This year is historic in that cable network TBS for the first time will broadcast the championship game, which has aired on CBS since 1982. For the past two seasons, TBS has aired the semi-final games along with CBS.
The Final Four will take place April 2 and April 4 in NRG Stadium, Houston.
Prior to the 2016 championship, games again will air on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV.
"The 2015 tournament was the most watched (Men's Div. I basketball competition) in 22 years," said Levy during a CBS-Turner media event in New York on Tuesday (March 8). "This has been an equal partnership with CBS, but this year it finally bears fruit for Turner with the national championship game on TBS."
Some 28.3 million people watched Duke defeat Wisconsin in the NCAA title game on CBS last season, making it the highest-rated March Madness championship game in 18 years. The average cost of a 30-second spot was $1.5 million according to financial research and consulting firm Wallet Hub, Washington DC.
Almost 740,000 people saw the tournament games in person.
Spend during March Madness is expected to hit $1.5 billion, with 30-second ads going for upward of $1.5 million, according to Kantar Media.
GM's Buick and NCAA corporate champion partners AT&T and Capital One topped the list last year, spending a combined $149.3 million on March Madness.
Corporate champion Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch were also among the Top Five in ad spend.
"What you are seeing from marketers for the NCAA tournament is what has been happening for the Super Bowl — companies are producing quality content specifically for the tournament," said Levy. "Capital One, AT&T, Coca-Cola and others are producing ads for TV, digital, per week. So it's not the same ad running all the time.
"That's been an evolution in which they realize how important this three-week long event is. You rarely get that type of viewer and marketing concentration in sports over an extended period," said Levy.
In addition, 80.7 million people watch the tournament via NCAA March Madness Live, and there were a estimated 350 million impressions generated via Twitter and Facebook, a 45% increase over 2014, according to Wallet Hub.
"We expect the social media numbers to double this year," said Levy.
The average annual increase in the value of the tournament's TV rights has gone up 4,535% since 1985, and TV ad revenue from last year's tournament was $1.1 billion, according to Wallet Hub.
"Before we did this deal with Turner, it was unheard of for one network to tell viewers to watch a program on another network," said Sean McManus, chairman for CBS Sports. "But now we have announcers on CBS telling people to go to TBS or TNT because there's a great game in progress. It's part of the broadcast, and viewers know that. They appreciate that we are helping them to navigate their way through the tournament."
"What we are seeing, and what was one of our objectives, was to get people to automatically go to TBS, TNT, truTV to watch a tournament game and not have to wonder or think about where the games are beyond CBS. That's been an evolution," said Levy. "Year One, Year Two, it was top-of-mind for us to focus a significant amount of attention to educate viewers regarding the tournament. Now, into Year Six, it's part of the fabric."
According to Levy, "Where you view content and how you view content in cable versus broadcast networks is not the barrier it used to be. You find what you want through Google, through social aspects, word-of-mouth. If you are a fan of the sport you will find it."
CBS has an arrangement somewhat akin to this with the NFL, where a series of early season NFL Thursday Night Football games air concurrently on CBS and NFL Network. This year, NBC has been added to the Thursday Night Football package, but after the CBS portion concludes.
However, McManus said that it was only similar in some aspects, including sharing talent and production personnel with NFL Network during the games. "But it is not as involved and encompassing as our relationship with Turner during the tournament."
Levy said that, much as CBS did earlier this year, it would use its exclusive broadcast of the championship game to make viewers aware of other programming across its networks.
"We certainly see this as a way to attract new viewers and marketing partners and to get people to see what is available on all of our networks," said Levy. "The same way that CBS used Super Bowl 50 to run (the Late Show with) Stephen Colbert, we will use it for promotion capabilities. We will test The Detour, one of our new comedies (a comedy about a family on the world's worst road trip) after a Final Four event."
A spot featuring Charles Barkley, who will be part of the broadcast team, singing a decidedly off-key version of "One Shining Moment," is playing across networks to raise awareness for the upcoming tournament. More ads will follow.
Among the other good news for CBS, Turner and the NCAA is that the number of people who generally don't follow sports or college basketball increases tremendously during the March Madness period.
More than 60 million people in the U.S. will fill out a tournament bracket and some 10% of the U.S. population participates in a bracket pool, according to Wallet Hub.
What CBS, Turner and the NCAA don't talk about, but what Wallet Hub readily shares: there was about $9 billion wagered during the 2015 tournament, which also turned into a $200 million profit for casinos is Las Vegas.
"The entire event is a media destination, appointment viewing television," said Levy. "From our company's standpoint, having come from the days of Ted Turner of airing Atlanta Braves baseball games and Hawks basketball games and the Goodwill Games, to be able to air the National Championship game, is pretty exciting.
"It was always in the back of our minds how exciting this would be for our company, but to actually crown a champion (on our network) is something very special to our organization," said Levy. "Turner Sports has never crowned a champion in any major sport."
"The NCAA championship game is a way to attract new viewers and marketing partners and to get people to see what is available on all of our networks."
Corporate champions are AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola.
Corporate partners include Allstate, Amazon Echo, Microsoft's Bing, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buick, Enterprise, Infiniti, Lowe's, LG, Nabisco, Northwest Mutual, Reese's Unilever and UPS.
Among marketing activations, Capital One is title sponsor for the Bracket Challenge and Microsoft's Bing will be the "official bracketologist" for March Madness.
Fan Fest will be presented by Capital One in the George R. Brown Convention Center. It includes the the AT&T Fan Zone, Buffalo Wild Wings Sports Lounge, Buick Arena, autographic sessions via NCAA March Madness Your Way presented by Burger King, Coca-Cola NCAA Youth Clinics.
Final Four Friday is presented by Reese's, which includes practices open to the public and the College All-Star Game.
The NCAA Final Four Music festival includes the AT&T Block Party (April 1), Coca-Cola Music (April 2) and the Capital One JamFest (April 3).
Selection Sunday is March 13. The First Four play March 15-16. First Round is March 17-18. Second Round is March 19-20. Sweet 16 is March 24-25. Elite Eight is March 26-27.
CBS will broadcast 21 games throughout the tournament including the Elite 8, Sweet 16 and first and second rounds.
Turner will air 46 game telecasts across its three networks (TBS, TNT and truTV).
TBS will televise 21 contests including the National Championship, Final Four, Elite 8, Sweet 16 and first and second round games.
truTV will air a total of 13 games, including the First Four and the first and second rounds. The network will also provide “Team Stream” coverage of the National Championship and Final Four.
TNT will televise 12 games including first and second round match-ups, in addition to the National Championship and Final Four “Team Stream” presentations.