The first vestiges of March Madness officially manifest tonight and new teammates CBS and Turner Sports are very well-positioned from an advertising perspective.
Inventory for the expanded 68-team field, which will tip off at 6:30 p.m. with TruTV's coverage of the inaugural "First Four" contest between UNC Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock, is virtually sold out and has been since last month, according to John Bogusz, executive vice president of sales and marketing at CBS Sports, and Jon Diament, executive vice president of ad sales and marketing at Turner Sports.
Their teams put on a well-coordinated full court with advertisers.
"We divided up the accounts, and assigned the appropriate account executives, depending on who add the best relationship history with the client or the agency," said Diament. "It really was seamless."
While the execs wouldn't discuss budget specifics for the 2011 tourney, advertisers plunked down some $613.8 million on the 2010 tournament, 4.3% more than in 2009, but behind the $643.2 million spent on the 2008 version of March Madness, according to Kantar Media estimates. All told, CBS garnered more than $4.8 billion in ad sales between 2001-10 as 280 marketers had commercial ties to the Madness over that span, Kantar calculates.
Each year, the tournament lays in a solid base of ad sales- Bogusz puts it at about a third of available units - through NCAA corporate champions AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola, plus corporate partners Enteprise Rent-a-Car, The Hartford, Infiniti, LG Electronics, Kraft Foods' Planters nuts, Unilever, Hersheys' Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Lowe's and UPS.
As part of the 14-year, $10.8 billion deal Turner and CBS inked with the NCAA last April, the companies secured marketing rights, with these relationships monitored throughout the year by Chris Simko, senior vice president of CBS Sports Sales and Marketing and director, CBS Sports Properties Group, and Turner senior vice president of NCAA partnerships and branded programming Will Funk.
The coalescence of the NCAA sponsorship activation, the vastly improved ad market and the tournament's appeal to a bevy of marketers drove sales this time around. In particular, two categories have stepped to the fore.
"There is no question the market is stronger and it has been fueled by two categories, autos and insurance, both of which have been up sharply," said Bogusz.
Despite the new format, which for the first time gives each of the 67 games its own national window on CBS (26), TBS (16), TruTV (13) and TNT (12) and the aggregations of GRPs across the four networks, Bogusz said CBS and Turner went out with a conservative sales estimate. Still, should the tournament come up short with the Nielsens -- neither exec would talk about specific audience guarantees -- Bogusz said "Jon and I would work together" on a make-goods plan.
Prices for the tournament are said to be in the $100,000 to $150,000 range per :30 in the opening rounds to as much as $1.2 million to $1.5 million for a 30-second spot in the marquee Final Four contests and national championship game.
Diament said business also has been brisk with digital plays with March Madness of Demand product, including the first iPhone and iPad applications, that are now being administered by Turner.
"There have been more opportunities and a lot more digital product with this year's tournament," he said.
Last year, March Madness on Demand generated some $37 million in advertising revenue.