By Barry Janoff
March 14, 2015: If it's March, there must be Madness, and not the kind in the MLB Spring Training ballparks, on the NHL ice or the NBA courts.
For the fifth consecutive year, under a $120.8 billion deal signed in 2010 with the NCAA that began in 2011 and runs through 2024, CBS Sports and Turner Sports are combining to provide live coverage of all 67 games from the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, airing across CBS and Turner Broadcasting's TBS, TNT and truTV.
Also available to fans is NCAA March Madness Live, which will stream every game via Internet, mobile and tablets.
Turner Sports and CBS Sports also have the exclusive rights to license NCAA marks, tickets and tag lines in commercial promotions with respect to the NCAA championships and hold certain exclusive media rights in the Div. I Men’s Basketball Championship.
During March Madness this year, companies are anticipated to spend at or above $1.2 billion to reach fans and consumers, which would top the record $1.14 billion spent last year, according to marketing, research and consulting firm Kantar Media, NY.
The average cost for a 30-second spot during the championship game on CBS is also expected to set a new record, surpassing the $1.5 million for a 30-second spot during the 2014 title game between winner University of Connecticut and Kentucky.
According to Kantar Media, the NCAA has "successfully commercialized and monetized March Madness, creating a platform for corporate sponsors to reap benefits from advertising and promotional programs anchored around the games."
“March Madness has evolved into 'marketing madness,'” Jon Swallen, chief research officer for Kantar Media, said in a statement.
TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV’s commentator team includes Marv Albert, Charles Barkley, Greg Gumbel, Grant Hill, Ernie Johnson, Clark Kellogg, Verne Lundquist, Reggie Miller, Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Kenny Smith.
The 2015 Tournament begins with the NCAA Basketball Championship Selection Show, March 15 on CBS (6 PM ET). The First Four/First Round airs on truTV March 17-18, followed by the second-third rounds (March 19-22), Sweet 16 (March 26-27) and Elite 8 (March 28-29).
The Final Four in Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, will air on Saturday, April 4, on TBS, with team-specific telecasts on TNT and truTV.
The National Championship airs Monday, April 6, on CBS.
Following a deal signed this week with Microsoft's Bing to become an official partner of the NCAA, the full list of NCAA marketing partners now includes Corporate Champions AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola; and Corporate Partners Allstate, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buick, Burger King, Enterprise, Infiniti, Kindle Fire, Lowe's, LG, Microsoft Bing, Nabisco, Northwestern Mutual, Reese's, Unilever and UPS.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Sean McManus, chairman, CBS Sports; and David Levy, president, Turner Broadcasting System, at a media event in New York about the growth of their partnership, marketing support and the future of the extravaganza known as March Madness.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How would you assess the CBS-TBS partnership entering the fifth year of NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship coverage?
Sean McManus: One of the best things about this tournament is the consistency we've had. The quality has been the same across all productions. We put into place a good model from Day 1 and we've had remarkable creative success, remarkable financial success, remarkable production and remarkable sales. We have exceeded expectations. We still have a lot of work to do, but it has gotten better every year.
David Levy: You might not what to hear this, but we've never had a situation where we couldn't resolve a problem with a phone call. This could go down as one of the best partnerships between two companies in history. We have two companies with different cultures, different ideas and directions. But we've said from the beginning, when Sean and I had our first dinner to talk about this, we have to focus on the fans first, not about our companies. So every idea, every thought, every move is consistent with the plan to make it work best for the consumers, the fans. When we think about it that way, and not about from a company perspective, it makes it a lot easier to make decisions.
NYSJ: Going into the fifth year, how have marketing partners responded to the CBS-Turner alliance?
McManus: When you see new partners coming in and others extending their deals, that is what shows how advantageous this has been. The success we have experienced on all levels is what they want to see. They want to get their messages out, they want to reach people and they want to engage fans. And they see it as an alliance that will continue to bring all of these elements to them in bigger and better ways in this Tournament and moving ahead.
Levy: They are still excited about it. They see it as a partnership that is working on all levels. There is CBS and there is Turner, but we are working together. From Day 1, what we talked about is that this is a real partnership. It's not a cable package or a network package. The companies aligned with NCAA, CBS and Turner see that it is growing and reaching more fans and consumers than ever. So financially, creatively, sales. regarding production, it works as a partnership that has been successful.
"The companies aligned with NCAA, CBS and Turner see that it is growing and reaching more fans and consumers than ever."
NYSJ: This is the second year that TBS will air the two Final Four games, and next year TBS gets the championship game (in Houston) for the first time when it begins to alternate between Turner and CBS. Will that have an impact on viewership?
McManus: You have an answer when you look at the numbers ESPN had for the College Football Playoff championship game in January and the two playoff games. We are in a day and age where people will go to where the program and game is.
Levy: When you want to watch a championship game, fans no longer care if it's on broadcast or cable, as long as the quality of the programming is high and the information they get adds to their enjoyment. They will find it.
NYSJ: Last year, CBS used March Madness to help promote its first season of NFL Thursday Night Football. Will you use this year's Tournament to promote the historic Super Bowl 50, which you will be airing this February?
McManus: We have started to talk about it, to do some on-air promotion. You will see a larger campaign rolling out during March Madness. We are still in the process of putting all of our promotional efforts together. This is a big game, the biggest Super Bowl in NFL history. So there will be more efforts as the season gets closer and then during the NFL season. Right now, we want to have a balance between promoting the NFL and Super Bowl and not having those messages overpower what we are doing for March Madness.
NYSJ: CBS and Turner are partners in the NCAA Tournament. What about giving them some of Super Bowl 50 airtime?
McManus: (Laughs.) Sorry, David. No.
Levy: (Laughs.) I would love that!
NYSJ: When you look at where you are now, in the fifth year, did you reach your goals regarding marketing, programming, reaching fans, getting them to find games on truTV?
McManus: We have reached and in some cases exceeded our goals across the board. The important thing is that we don't get complacent, that we don't take anything for granted. We need to keep reaching fans on all platforms and making sure the that quality and production of the games on all of the networks is at the highest level.
Levy: We felt confident that people would acclimate to switching channels to find the games, and even to find the games on truTV, but we weren't 100% certain. Now, we are. As far as platforms, to be honest, when we signed this deal in 2010 and launched it on-air in 2011, we weren't streaming the type of content that we are now. We didn't have the mobile technology we are now using. March Madness Live has continued to grow and become an important part of the way consumers interact with and follow the games. This year, NCAA Digital, managed by Turner Sports, launched the NCAA March Madness YouTube Channel, giving fans a constant flow of real-time highlights, news and game previews and recaps.
NYSJ: What are the challenges moving forward?
Levy: The deal that we struck is that when a new device or new technology happens, we have the right to use the content where we need to use it. That's what fans and consumers want. We have to continue to push hard to keep improving all areas: production, creative, sales. We have to continue to develop different messages, different promotional spots. We are using social media more to get the message out, and we have to continue to work to use all of the platforms that are now available and will be available in the future to our best advantage.
McManus: We sit down every year and spend a lot of time looking at ways to build on what we have, improve on what we are offering fans and ways to innovate. Changing around the lineup of the commentators and analysts. Adding TeamCast. If we don't we'll get stale.
NYSJ: What are we talking about at a March Madness media conference five years from now?
McManus: You never know what platforms will be available five years in the future. What we have to do is continue to innovate, continue to add what technology offers, what viewers and fans want and what works to our best advantage. We will be talking about what has happen since 2015 and seeing how it has worked for us.
Levy: We will still be saying that this has been a hugely successful partnership. It's hard to believe we are already in the fifth year. We are looking forward to the next nine years. We might have to start thinking about renewing the deal soon. (Laughs.)
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