Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Madness advertising

(Editor's Note: This post is being reprinted from The View from Section 10.)

For the first time ever, March Madness will be seen over four different channels later this month. This is an advertising sales challenge, right? Not so fast--according to officials at CBS Sports, commercial inventory is "virtually gone."

The upcoming tournament will be seen not only on CBS, but also on TNT, TBS and TruTV, which means that hoops junkies can see each game of the tournament, rather than the past regional broadcast format. Viewers will be able to switch to the game they want, rather than relying upon CBS to switch from game-to-game, which has been the past approach.

While the new format is a boon for viewers, it's a challenge for media planners, buyers and marketing execs. Brands involved with the tournament have to figure out how to purchase it across cable, where to place ads on each outlet, and how best to measure success. The networks have to determine contingency plans should ratings guarantees fall short of what's been promised to advertisers.

The approach is unique but will be the precedent for tournaments to come. CBS and Turner are spending $10.8 billion over 14 years for the rights to broadcast the three-weeks of March Madness, which has been expanded to 68 teams (from 65), on both television as well as digitally. Thus, the stakes are high given the rights fees coupled with the $600+ million spent (in 2010) on March Madness by advertisers.

This years, familiar brands like Coca-Cola, AT&T and Capital One will continue their NCAA Tournament involvement. The broadcasts will also feature Enterprise Rent-A-Car, The Hartford, LG Electronics, Infiniti and Unilever, among others. And, while the NCAA has long forbidden corporate signage in-game or in-arena, the new broadcast format opens up more places for advertising brands to be seen--in regular commercial pods as well as "at the half" and "pre-game" studio shows.

Let March Madness begin!

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