Pacing Ahead of Last Year, CBS/Turner 'Virtually Sold Out' of Madness Ad Inventory

Final Four, National Championship Game Complete, Save for Possible Floater Units
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The 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, airing on CBS and Turner's TNT, TBS, and TruTV, is "virtually sold out" of all TV commercial inventory for the tournament that begins on March 19.

Sales executivess from CBS and Turner place the sellout level at about 97%-98%.

"We are extremely tight right now," said John Bogusz, executive vice president, sports sales and marketing at CBS. "We are tighter this year than we were last year at this point," when the sellout level was at about 95%.

The Final Four games on Saturday, April 6 and the National Championship game on Monday, April 8, are sold out except for possible floater ads, meaning if an additional number of timeouts happen to be called during any of the games, then advertisers could be squeezed in. But Bogusz says the goal is to avoid signing up advertisers who might not wind up getting into the telecasts.

Bogusz said there are a set number of commercials that can be sold during each game, a number decided upon by the NCAA that he wouldn't specify. But for the final weekend's telecasts, "it will be a struggle to find any available commercial time."

Currently, the available commercial inventory is in the earlier round telecasts, including the daytime games. Jon Diament, executive vice president, Turner Sports ad sales and marketing: "What's left is probably not in the highest rated windows. Demand has been high and it is just very tight."

Diament noted the digital windows are also very well sold, pointing out that most of the advertisers who bought TV time were also sold digital ad inventory.

The heavy sellout level is not only due to the popularity of the tournament and the telecasts, but also because many of the advertisers either have multiyear deals or made their investments earlier than last year.

Bogusz and Diament both said returning advertisers without multiyear deals began committing to this year's tournament much earlier than last year and with larger investments.

"For major events like this, advertisers have to plant their flags early," Bogusz said. To which Diament added, "Investment by our corporate sponsors has never been this strong and multiyear advertisers know they can get guaranteed placements in the windows they want if they commit early."

Strong demand means price hikes are inevitable and marketers in this year's tournament paid an average of just under 10% more per unit than last year. "We aren't getting double-digit increases but were very close," said Bogusz.

While the network sales execs would not discuss specific ad unit pricing, sources familiar with the sales say commercials in the opening round games have sold for about $100,000 per 30-second spot, while commercials in the regional finals sold for between $650,000 and $750,000. Advertisers paid about $1.7 million for a commercial in the April 8 championship game.

Sales staffs for CBS and Turner jointly sold the ad inventory like they have since the partnership began three years ago.

Kantar Media has reported that last year, CBS/Turner took in just north of $1 billion in ad revenue for the tournament. While Bogusz and Diament would not comment on that figure, other sources familiar with the tournament ad sales say the number is overstated and that the actual take last year was closer to $800 million, with this year's number in the $900-million range.

Digital ad sales for the tournament, which are broken out separately, will reach about $70 million this year.

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