By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
November 17, 2010: March Madness is still some three months away, but executives at CBS and Turner Broadcasting are already predicting that the first men's college basketball Division I tournament under their new joint 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with the NCAA will be a marketing and production success.
"Ten [of 11 NCAA] corporate sponsors are back and the other is resolving a financial situation, four or five others are very interested and two new sponsors will soon be announced," said David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports for Turner. "Sales and corporate response are even better than what we expected." He also stated he expects "eyeballs will increase 25%."
Among the new aspects fans and brands will get are Marv Albert, Charles Barkley, a "National Bracket Day," increased activation at March Madness on Demand and a redesigned production effort that will cross CBS and Turner borders.
Under the new deal signed this past April, Turner Sports and CBS Sports have exclusive rights to license NCAA marks, tickets and taglines in commercial promotions with respect to the NCAA championships and hold certain exclusive media rights in the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.
NCAA corporate partners include AT&T, Capital One, Coca-Cola, Enterprise, The Hartford, Hershey's Chocolate, LG, Lowe's, Planters (Kraft Foods), State Farm Insurance and UPS.
According to Levy and Sean McManus, president for CBS News and Sports, the two broadcast giants will combine on-air talent, production efforts and marketing activation to offer fans a seamless presentation across CBS and Turner's three outlets: TBS, TNT and truTV. That includes Turner's leading NBA announcers and analysts becoming part of the 68-team tournament crew, including Marv Albert, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Reggie Miller and Ernie Johnson; and CBS's top college basketball talent doing coverage on Turner, including Jim Nantz and Gus Johnson.
"The on-air talent is like the 1927 New York Yankees," said McManus, who appeared with Levy on Nov. 16 as part of a Sports Media & Technology conference in New York under the auspices of SportsBusiness Journal/Daily. "These guys live and breathe basketball all year long." McManus also said that "Marv is recognized as the one of the great basketball announcers in history. And the more we can use Charles [Barkley], the better."
According to McManus, everything from music and graphics to production and logistics will coexist across all platforms. "Fans who tune in to CBS or truTV will not see a difference in production quality," said McManus. In fact, Nantz will lead the on-air team for what is now dubbed the "First Four" games, to be shown on truTV.
"The on-air talent is like the 1927 New York Yankees. Marv Albert, Charles Barkley . . . These guys live and breathe basketball all year long."
The 2011 Division I men's basketball tournament will begin with bracket assignments on Selection Sunday, March 13, on CBS. The next day, March 14, is now being billed — and being pitched to potential sponsors — as "National Bracket Day," to include extended programming across CBS and Turner platforms. The First Four will be played on March 15-16, to include four at-large teams and teams seeded No. 65, 66, 67 and 68, played at the University of Dayton Arena.
Second- and third-round games will be played March 17-20 and regional games are scheduled for March 24-27. The Final Four will be April 2-4, 2011 at Reliant Stadium, Houston, and shown on CBS. (Full schedule here.)
Levy said that Turner's digital assets would play a big role in the 2011 tournament. That would include NCAA.com, CBSSports.com, SI.com and other sites handled by Turner "as a complement to the advertising opportunities on TV." Also getting ramped up is the already popular March Madness on Demand, which provides live video-streaming of games. For the coming tournament, MMOD will morph into a video network with tournament-centric programming airing throughout the three-plus weeks of the event. Earlier this year, the NCAA signed Turner to create and develop NCAA Digital, which covers not just men's basketball but digital sites across all NCAA sports.
Looking beyond 2011, Levy said that Turner is considering adding more college basketball as well as college football to its schedule, is determining what financial and logistical elements would be needed to add 3D to the tournament production and is working with CBS to continue to enhance March Madness not just for this year but "through the entire deal," which runs until 2024. The previous deal CBS had with the NCAA was an 11-year, $6 billion pact that would have gone through 2013 but gave the NCAA the option to drop out three years early. CBS has carried March Madness since 1982.
Both McManus and Levy citied strength in unity when developing the deal not only to ensure financial success but also to keep out ESPN, which also was bidding on the contract. "I'm not proud of spending $10.8 billion, but it is the largest sports deal ever," said Levy.
"Both CBS and Turner are working to make the venture better for both sides, even 14 years down the road," said McManus. "This is still in its infancy, but the corporate and financial [response] has been unbelievable." And regarding March Madness 2011: "What we want," said McManus, "are close, competitive games and good storylines."