March Madness Generates $7.5 Billion in TV Advertising Since 2005

Achieved $1.13 billion in spend last year – second only to NFL Football playoffs in total national TV ad spend among post-season sports programming

New York, NY, March 9, 2015 – When the 68-team field for the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division I Men’s Basketball Championship is announced on March 15th, it will mark the beginning of a highly anticipated three week event commonly referred to as “March Madness”. An analysis of trend data by Kantar Media shows how the tournament has evolved over the past decade to become one of the largest and most valuable properties in all of television sports.

As a sports marketing event, the collegiate basketball tournament is in the major leagues alongside the Super Bowl, World Cup and Olympics. 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,” said Jon Swallen, Chief Research Officer at Kantar Media.

For the 2015 tournament, CBS and Turner Broadcasting will show every game live, with the telecasts spread across the CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV networks. As in past years the event will be streamed online, providing advertisers with another outlet to reach viewers. Licensed NCAA marketing partners will also have the opportunity to tightly integrate their products into the tournament through branded placements, experiential events and integrated cross-channel programs.

TV Ad Revenue Holds Steady

Kantar Media estimates that the men’s basketball tournament has generated $7.5 billion of national TV ad expenditures from 279 different marketers during the past decade (2005-2014). Spending in the 2014 event was $1.13 billion, up 1.5 percent from the prior year.

Since 2011, every tournament game has been aired nationally, producing more ad inventory and contributing to the revenue increase versus earlier years.

A Leading Franchise in Post-Season Sports Programming

As measured by national TV ad spending, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the NFL playoffs are perennially the two largest post-season sports franchises. After two years atop the rankings, college hoops slipped to second position behind pro football in 2014.

Of course, these totals are a function of both viewing popularity (which affects ad pricing) and the number of games televised. With their single elimination formats the number of NFL post-season contests is fixed at 11 and the college basketball tournament is fixed at 65. The other pro sports leagues use multi-game series to determine winners and the total number of games played fluctuates from year-to-year, affecting ad revenue trends.

Ad Rates Achieve Steady Growth

The cost of a TV commercial rises during the three-week tournament and peaks with the championship game. The average price to an individual advertiser will depend on the mix of spots airing during game telecasts versus pre- or post-game studio shows and also how deep into the event its package extends. (More than one-half of 2014 advertisers had commercials in all three weeks of the tournament).

The average price of a :30 unit in the 2014 championship game was just under $1.5 million, a 5 percent increase over the prior year.

To put this pricing in perspective, it’s about 15 percent less than the AFC/NFC pro football championship games that determine the Super Bowl participants, but more than twice as expensive as the most costly air time in other premium sports programs.

NCAA Sponsors Dominate Top Ad Buyers

The tournament typically contains TV messages from 85-90 different companies. A small proportion hold dominant positions and each year the top ten consistently account for more than one-third of total spending. In 2014, this select group invested $418.6 million to reach NCAA viewers.

The top ten is also notable for the number of NCAA corporate sponsors it includes. Seventeen companies have marketing arrangements with the NCAA, which are tied to the latter’s broadcast rights agreements with CBS and Turner. (The media companies negotiate and manage these financial agreements for the NCAA). All 17 purchased air time in the 2014 event and were responsible for nearly 40 percent of total ad spending.

Automotive the Leading Ad Category

Given the share of tournament ad spending that NCAA sponsors account for, the profile of top ad categories is tilted towards their lines of business. Spending by automotive, telecom, restaurant, financial service and insurance marketers was more than one-half of the dollar commitments in the 2014 event.

Each of the top 5 categories had multiple sponsors, affirming the desirability of live sporting events to reach their target prospects.

TV Ratings – Where Do The Most Passionate Viewers Reside?

With a starting field of 68 teams that runs the gamut from established schools with large fan bases to smaller universities that are less familiar to casual fans, there are significant geographic variations in TV audience ratings. Which TV markets have the most avid college basketball fans as measured by TV ratings?

It’s no surprise that local market viewership of tournament games gets a boost when an endemic “home market” school is playing. A more revealing measure of viewer passion is the size of the local TV audience for games that involve out-of-area teams.

Kantar Media analyzed TV tuning data from the 2014 tournament that was collected by multiscreen measurement provider Rentrak and has identified markets with the most ardent and committed tournament viewers. For all 65 games, we compared TV household ratings within each TV market against the national average and expressed the ratio as an index. We made a parallel set of calculations just for games involving non-endemic “out-of-area” teams, taking into account the geographic relationship between the TV market and each of the schools playing in the game.

The Louisville market had the most committed viewing audience during the 2014 tournament with a TV rating index of 304 for games involving out-of-area schools (and a 379 index for all games). The states of Kentucky and Kansas each had two markets in the top five, affirming their reputations as passionate hotbeds for college basketball.

A Growing Digital Footprint

In addition to the large advertising footprint on linear TV, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament also offer sponsors an opportunity to reach consumers via digital platforms.

All of the games are streamed online through the March Madness Live service and fans can access the ad-supported video casts, real-time scores, statistics and other related content on their PCs, tablets or smartphones. Streaming access to live games airing on Turner networks is limited to viewers with an authenticated cable or satellite TV subscription. Live games being broadcast on CBS are available online without restriction.

According to Turner Sports, which manages March Madness Live, the 2014 tournament produced robust levels of online consumption:
  • 9.9 million unique viewers (+9% versus 2013)
  • 70 million live video streams (+ 42% versus 2013)
  • 15.1 million live hours watched (+7% percent versus 2013)
Advertising sales on March Madness Live are bundled with TV ad packages and this limits access by marketers. As an alternative, some advertisers seek to leverage the popularity of online tournament brackets by placing digital ads adjacent to this content or by running contests where fans submit their bracket entries and vie for prizes. In 2014, Quicken Loans sponsored a “Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge” in partnership with Yahoo Sports, offering a $1 billion grand prize for correctly picking the winner of all 67 games. The last entrant was eliminated in the 25th game.

The Value of On-Screen Sponsor Exposure

In addition to their paid spots during the TV coverage of the basketball tournament, the 17 NCAA marketing partners also have exclusive rights to a variety of premium sponsorship opportunities, which generate additional on-screen exposure. The most common are digital signage around the court visible to the TV audience, on-screen graphics and branded sets for studio programming.

In 2014 these branded placements yielded a total of $112.8 million in sponsorship media value (SMV) for the recipients. SMV is a proprietary calculation developed by Kantar Media, which takes into account the duration, source and prominence of a sponsor’s on-screen exposure and compares it to the impact of an equivalent TV commercial message.

Capital One had the largest SMV ($29.0 million) followed by AT&T ($23.0 million). Each received more than seven cumulative hours of on screen sponsorship exposure, as compared to about 1.5 hours and 2.7 hours, respectively, of regular paid commercial time.

Other marketers with at least $5 million of on-screen SMV in 2014 were Buick, Coca-Cola and Enterprise.

Corporate Branding Extends Beyond the TV Screen

Beyond the games and related TV coverage, there are other branding and experiential marketing opportunities for top-tier NCAA sponsors. These are most prominent during Final Four Weekend when fan attendance (and interest) is at its peak. Reese’s, the official candy partner, is aligned with Final Four Friday where fans can view the teams’ open practices, engage in on-court promotions and watch the Reese’s College All Star Game. The March Madness Music festival, with three days of live performances, is presented by AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola. Capital One is also the presenting sponsor of Final Four Fan Fest, a large sports-themed interactive event located near the basketball arena. In 2014, more than 175,000 people attended Final Four Weekend sponsored events, according to the NCAA.

About Kantar Media

Kantar Media provides critical information that helps our clients make better decisions about communications. We enable the world’s leading brands, publishers, agencies and industry bodies to navigate and succeed in a rapidly evolving media industry. Our services and data include analysis of paid media opportunities; counsel on brand reputation, corporate management and consumer engagement through owned media; and evaluating consumers’ reactions in earned media. As the global house of expertise in media and marketing information, Kantar Media provides clients with a broad range of insights, from audience research, competitive intelligence, vital consumer behavior and digital insights, marketing and advertising effectiveness to social media monitoring. Our experts currently work with 22,000 companies tracking over 4 million brands in 50 countries.