By Barry Janoff
March 8, 2012: The frenzy that is March Madness added another element last year with the introduction of the First Four, which officially opens the NCAA men's basketball Division I Tournament.
This season, the First Four is expanding to include several days of pre-tournament festivities, which NCAA corporate partners and local marketers have embraced.
The First Four games will take place at the University of Dayton (Ohio) Arena, March 13-14. But on March 11, the inaugural First Four Festival will begin in Dayton proper. Under the auspices of the Dayton-Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau, NCAA and local partners will activate on several levels during what is being described as "a huge street party along several blocks in the city's cobblestoned Oregon historic district."
The First Four was created as part of CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting's joint 14-year deal with the NCAA that began in 2011.
The introduction of the First Four helped boost Tournament-related ad spend in 2011. The top ten advertisers spent a total of $272.7 million on March Madness marketing while total ad revenue reached an all-time high of $738 million, up 20.2% from the prior year, according to research firm Kantar Media, New York.
The First Four Festival and March 13-14 games are expected to bring at least $4 million into the local economy, per the Dayton-Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
According to Dayton City commissioner Nan Whaley, "We are excited to be working with the NCAA, and we expect the events to garner much more positive, national attention for our community."
NCAA corporate champions are Coca-Cola, Capital One and AT&T. Official corporate partners are Allstate, Buick, Enterprise, Infinity, LG, Loew's, Northwest Mutual, Hershey's Reese's, Unilever, UPS and Kraft's Wheat Thins.
Most are expected to have a presence at the First Four Festival via signage, on-site experiential marketing or other activations. Many will also have on-air presence during First Four games.
"We are excited to be working with the NCAA, and we expect the events to garner much more positive, national attention for our community."
Turner’s truTV will air First Four games in prime time. CBS and Turner's TNT and TBS will then show all games from the ensuing rounds leading to the Final Four, which will air on CBS March 31 and April 2 from the Mercerdes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
This year's field will be unveiled during a national broadcast on March 11 on CBS. Two of the First Four first-round games will feature the last four at-large teams selected by the NCAA on "Selection Sunday," while the other two games will match teams ranked 65 through 68 on the overall seed list. The winners of the four games then advance to the second round.
Last year, Virginia Commonwealth University was one of the eight First Four teams. VCU ultimately advanced to the Final Four before losing in the semi-finals to Butler.
Last year, the University of Dayton Arena drew 20,217 fans over two days for the inaugural First Four. The University was then selected to host the First Four this month and again in March 2012, when second- and third-round games will also be played there, according to the NCAA.
Among the activations scheduled for the First Four Festival will be big-screen TVs broadcasting conference championship games and the NCAA selection show, a basketball tournament showcasing former players from the University of Dayton and other in-state colleges, live entertainment and an "NCAA First Four 4 Miler" race that will start and end in the midst of the festival.
"We want to show the country that Dayton means basketball," Tim Wabler, vice president and director of athletics at the University of Dayton, said in a statement.