March Madness Generates Nearly $1 Billion In Ad Revenue

Advertisers are eagerly awaiting the start of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, as the 21-day March Madness event provides an opportunity for marketers to connect with consumers over an extended period. In 2019, the nearly month-long tournament generated $910 million in national TV ad revenue, a number that may see an uptick this year with CBS and Turner Sports reportedly selling out linear TV ad inventory in record time for the 2020 games.

TV ad revenue

Over the past five years, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has generated more than $4.5 billion of national TV ad spending. Ad revenue in 2019 reached $910 million, down 3.5 percent from the previous year. This slight decline could be due to fewer spots sold.

Though ad spend was down in 2019, the number of advertisers during the tournament has been steadily growing year after year, with 2019 having the highest level we have seen since 2008. (With advertisers often placing ads for multiple brands, the number of brands differs from the number of advertisers during a given year.)

Many advertisers are loyal to the event. Two-thirds are consistently returnees from the prior year and 23 marketers have appeared in the event for the last 10 consecutive years. This is a very high loyalty rate as compared to other major sporting events like the Super Bowl, which has a typical turnover rate among its advertisers of around 40 percent.

Post-season TV sports franchises

Among post-season TV sports franchises, the NCAA consistently ranks among the top, with March Madness generating close to one billion dollars of national TV ad spending. However, due to the exorbitant amount of money generated by the Super Bowl each year, post-season college and professional basketball each lag the NFL playoff season by about $200 million.

Top advertisers in the tournament

The top ten advertisers in each year's event typically account for more than 40 percent of its total ad expenditures. Indeed, in 2019 the top ten were responsible $385 million in ad investments, or 42 percent of overall tournament spend.

This select group of advertisers is dominated by approved NCAA corporate marketing partners who pay fees to the organization for the rights to develop marketing and promotional programs surrounding NCAA championships.

Leading Ad Categories

The top 5 categories consistently account for around 60 percent of total national TV ad spending in the event. The NCAA basketball championship tends to attract a relatively young and affluent viewing audience, making it a prime location for automotive, telecom and financial companies to promote their products.

The pressure is on for marketers in these categories, as several direct competitors also spend on promoting their messages in the games. For example, in 2019 there were messages from eight different auto nameplates, 12 different financial services companies and 11 different restaurant brands.

Integrated activations from sponsors

In addition to a wide linear TV opportunity, some brands use March Madness as a cornerstone for wider sponsorship activations. The NCAA has 18 approved corporate marketing partners, many of whom create integrated programs with multiple consumer touchpoints coinciding with the tournament. TV spots in the games are often a core element and are supplemented by things like sweepstakes, contests, in-store events and on-site experiential marketing at tournament sites – especially during the Final Four weekend.

In 2019, corporate sponsor AT&T utilized multiple deployment opportunities to connect with consumers throughout the tournament. At the Final Four in Minneapolis, AT&T offered an enhanced wireless experience at the games and other events like concerts and fan fests. AT&T also live streamed concerts to fans across NCAA and AT&T social and digital channels, as well as used its branded Fan Zone at the Final Four to create a Game of Thrones-themed shot contest which was tracked through an online leaderboard.

Another sponsor, Pizza Hut, leveraged the opportunity as a platform to relaunch its P'Zone offering, a menu favorite from the early 2000’s. Pizza Hut also used its sponsorship to promote its Book It! literacy initiative, the brand’s global commitment to enabling access to books and educational resources to empower teachers and inspiring readers.

Buffalo Wild Wings also had multiple activations for March Madness, including an ad that was only created to air if a game headed into overtime as well as its own bracket challenge. Perhaps the most buzzworthy component of Buffalo Wild Wings’ activation was on-site stools at two of its locations which were specifically designed for men who just had vasectomies. This was implemented as a result of learning that instances of the procedure increase 30 percent during the first round of the tournament.

Looking ahead to 2020, automotive sponsor Nissan Motor Co. is set to shift its marketing efforts from the Inifinti nameplate over to the Nissan brand. According to reports, Nissan is planning a robust commercial presence on linear and streaming television, as well as in-game features and on-the-ground marketing at the 2020 Final Four in Atlanta.

With the potential of a billion dollars at stake and games already sold out for the 2020 tournament, Kantar will be tracking March Madness to see which brands land at the top of the leader board this year.



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