Marketing execs who want to get in on the frenzy of March Madness may want to give John Bogusz or Jon Diament a holler within the next 48 hours or so, as only a handful of ad units remains up for grabs in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.
Speaking to reporters during a teleconference Wednesday evening, CBS Sports sales chief Bogusz and his counterpart at Warner Bros. Discovery said the in-game inventory for the March 14-April 3 college hoops showcase is all but accounted for. Bogusz confirmed that the first two rounds of the tourney have been just about picked clean, while a few units remain in the Sweet 16 telecasts.
From there on in, CBS and WBD are effectively out-of-sale, although accommodations may be made for advertisers who are looking to add a few more units to their existing buys in the Final Four and championship game. Bogusz clarified that a fixed percentage of inventory is being held back as a hedge against having to make clients whole in the event the ratings don’t match the agreed-upon guarantees.
“Our goal is to deliver for all our advertisers with the appropriate number of impressions,” Bogusz said. “It seems this year that anyone can beat anyone, and in terms of who advances it may not be the blue bloods. So, depending on what happens with our ratings performance, we have to make sure everyone [meets their expectations].”
The practice of salting away units is standard operating procedure for just about every major sporting event other than the Super Bowl, which is one of the few TV broadcasts that is not priced against ratings projections. Should CBS and WBD meet or exceed their benchmarks in the earlier rounds, those units held in reserve will then be auctioned off in scatter—and at significantly higher rates than what both parties fetched during last year’s upfront market.
If the NCAA’s media partners can avoid having to dispense with a load of makegoods, this year’s tournament will net out more ad sales revenue than ever before. (At the very least, an engaging spring hoops run should generate north of $1 billion for the two network groups.) The bullish outlook is based on what amounts to record high pricing; according to Diament, the average CPM, or cost of reaching each batch of 1,000 viewers, is up over last year’s rates by mid- to high-single-digit percentages.
Ad rates escalate throughout the tournament, with 30-second units fetching a few hundred-thousand dollars in the early rounds before peaking with the title tilt. Media buyers surveyed said the going rate for a spot in this year’s final ran between $2.2 million and $2.3 million a pop.
In a sense, the NCAA’s official sponsorship program does a lot of the heavy lifting for CBS and WBD, as about 60% of the in-game spots are reserved for the 17 premium backers. The three heaviest spenders are the so-called Corporate Champions, a triumvirate of brands that includes Capital One, Coca-Cola and AT&T. The telco also serves as the title sponsor of the halftime show.
Other NCAA corporate sponsors include Aflac, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buick, Nissan, Pizza Hut, Unilever, Wendy’s and newcomer Dick’s Sporting Goods. The latter brand effectively replaced the insurance giant Geico, which dropped out of the program after a three-year run. Geico was the second-biggest spender during the 2022 tourney, per iSpot.TV estimates, investing some $41.3 million on ads over the course of the event. The top spender was AT&T, with a $66.1 million allocation.
Diament said automotive, insurance, quick-service restaurants, tech and movies are among the most active categories in this year’s 67-game spectacle. Coverage tips off next Tuesday from Dayton with the opening night of the First Four play-in games. The tourney is set to wrap up in Houston on the first Monday in April. This will mark the first proper title game to air on CBS since 2019; discounting the culmination of the bubble tourney two years ago, the broadcaster’s most recent final delivered 19.6 million viewers, an audience boasting a median age of 55 years.