Survey: With Ad Spent At $1B, There's Gold In March Madness Marketing Hills

By Barry Janoff

March 6, 2013: Between 2003-2012, the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament generated more than $5.9 billion in national TV ad spending from 266 different marketers. In 2012, ad revenue surpassed the $1 billion mark for the first time.

Those are just some of the golden figures in a new study from marketing and research firm Kantar Media, NY. The numbers hit in time for the 2013 NCAA hoops tournament, which begins with Selection Sunday on March 17 and gets underway in earnest with the First Four March 19-20.

According to Kantar, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament last year "displaced pro football ($976.3 million) as the most lucrative post-season sports franchise as measured by national TV ad revenue."

In addition, with more than $1 billion in ad spending, the Tournament nearly exceeded the combined post-season total for the NBA ($536.9 million), MLB ($354.1 million) and the NHL ($101.1 million). Over the past two years, the rate of ad spending has increased by 64%, per Kantar.

In 2013, for the third season, the NCAA men's hoops tournament will air on CBS and three Turner Broadcasting networks: TBS, TNT and truTV. CBS will air the Final Four on April 6 and April 8 from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The NCAA itself has upped its ad spend during the tournament (which is not included in the Kantar report) to support the 75th anniversary of March Madness.

While the NFL's Super Bowl telecast is still the 30-second commercial gold standard among marketers — with an average of $3.8 million spent on 30-second spots during Super Bowl XLVII last month and some companies having spent upward of $4 million, according to CBS — the NCAA men's hoops championship game is moving up.

According to Kantar, companies spent an average of $1.34 million for 30-second spots during the 2012 title game on CBS (when Kentucky defeated Kansas). That was up an average of $100,000 over 2011 ($1.24 million) and up more than $400,000 from 2003 ($827,000).

In 2012, some 80-85 companies advertised during March Madness, with the top ten accounting for $362.3 million, more than a third of the total TV ad spend. General Motors topped all marketers with $80.3 million, followed by AT&A ($54.2 million), Anheuser-Busch ($31.9 million), Coca-Cola ($31.7 million), Capital One ($28.4 million), USSA ($28.2 million), Lowe's ($27.4 million), Apple ($27.2 million), Miller ($27 million) and Nissan ($26.1 million).

NCAA marketing partners include AT&T, Capital One, Coca-Cola, Allstate, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buick, Enterprise, Infiniti, Lowe's, Nabisco, Northwest Mutual, Reese's, Unilever and UPS.

Among categories in 2012, auto led with $205.8 million (headed by GM, Infiniti and Mercedes), followed by financial services ($115.7 million), telecom ($87.6 million), restaurants ($86.8 million, led by Pizza Hut, Dominos, Applebees and Subway) and insurance ($82.4 million, with State Farm and Allstate as the top spenders).

Kantar stressed that marketing has also become more significant beyond TV as Internet, mobile and other forms of media become more prevalent.

"As in prior years, multi-screen digital access to the 2013 tournament will be available to fans via PC, smartphone and tablet devices," Kantar said in its report. "All games will be streamed live and the ad-sponsored videocasts offer another platform for marketers to deliver commercial messages. Streamed viewing tends to be highest in the first week of the event, driven by the combination of at-work viewership and multiple games being played simultaneously."

In addition to game coverage, "the digital offering also includes a sponsored bracket game as well as a sponsored 'social arena' where people can follow game tweets and participate in fan chats," according to Kantar.

Although Kantar says that the NCAA tournament "presents an opportunity for marketers to engage viewers over an extended period," there also is a downside: The potential for an advertiser to "wear out its welcome and alienate the audience through sheer volume and repetition of its ad messages."

"The risk is greatest for sponsors with ad packages that extend through to the final game because they're airing the most spots — and also spending the most money."

According to Kantar, "The risk is greatest for the sponsors with ad packages that extend all the way through to the final game because they are airing the most spots — and also spending the most money."

Kantar said that one strategy used most often to combat message fatigue is to have multiple commercials and rotate their airplay. "Most of the products that advertise throughout the entire tournament use this ploy, but each year a handful instead repetitively pound away with just a solitary commercial, potentially a turn-off for consumers," per Kantar.

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