Friday
Mar112011

Q&A: With Sales To The Wind, CBS, Turner Reach March Madness Promised Land

For the first time in the 73-year history of the NCAA Men's Division I basketball tournament, every game will be available nationally live in their entirety across four TV networks. That's good news for fans and marketers. But as Chris Simko svp-sports sales and marketing and director of CBS Sports Properties Group, relates, the 14-year, $10.8 billion deal among CBS, Turner and the NCAA that put all this in motion gave new meaning to the term March Madness.

By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted March 10, 2011)


What does $10.8 billion buy? In the case of the deal among CBS, Turner and the NCAA to air and market the Men's Division I basketball tournament and Final Four, an expanded 68-team field and four networks rather than one.

In addition to on-air programming, CBS and Turner will also offer new enhancements via March Madness on Demand, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other venues.

Under terms of the deal, Turner Sports and CBS Sports have the 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. Turner and CBS will negotiate the NCAA’s corporate champion and corporate partner agreements.

This year alone, Infiniti, Unilever and on March 10 Domino's (see full story here) joined NCAA corporate partners AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola (corporate champions); Enterprise, The Hartford, LG Electronics, Lowe's, Kraft Foods' Planters, Hershey's Reese's and UPS.

According to 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%."

The networks 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 lead NBA announcers and analysts becoming part of the 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, Greg Gumbel, Don Bonner, Greg Anthony and Gus Johnson.

 "The on-air talent is like the 1927 New York Yankees," said Sean McManus, president for CBS News and Sports.

The 2011 tournament begins March 15 with a new First Four, first round format that will air on truTV. The Final Four will be played April 2-4 in Houston, to air on CBS.

Chris Simko, CBS svp-sports sales and marketing and director of the CBS Sports Properties Group, manages the NCAA Corporate Champion Program in conjunction with the NCAA. He spoke with NYSportsJournalism about the 2011 tournament during a CBS-Turner-NCAA media event in New York.

NYSportsJournalism: What were the challenges of talking to marketing partners and selling across different networks?
Chris Simko: It was a whole different way of looking at it for us. But you have to remember that we acquired the NCAA's marketing rights, in addition to the broadcast rights, back in 2002-03. We work very closely with other vendors, namely ESPN, on other NCAA championships, on selling and other aspects together. Since we acquired these properties, we wanted our clients to not only be able to activate across all of these NCAA championships and across all of these various outlets, but also not be ambushed by any of their competitors. So we had a mindset of working on just more than CBS assets. So going into the relationship with Turner sort of business as usual. But there were challenges such as corporate cultures, and would there be any type of clashing in terms of how Turner would sell their sports properties and their entertainment properties and how we are selling NCAA with our other sports events. But so far it has worked out great.

"First of all, everybody was very pleased that CBS Sports was still involved with the tournament. Especially the people at CBS Sports!"

NYSJ: When you go to the general public and ask which network televises March Madness, the majority would say CBS. So does having to also send people to Turner networks dilute this association?
CS: It doesn't. It's an educational process that needs to go on. We did that with all of our advertisers, all of the major agencies. We sat down with them after the deal was announced last April. We met with all of them right after that to make sure they understood what our goals were, what our objectives were. We understood, and they understood, that the time is now for everybody to be able to see these games across national networks. It's just the way of the world. Our old system, while phenomenal and really exciting and interesting, ended up not giving enough fans enough opportunity to see everything they wanted to see. And if the fans and viewers are happy, then the advertisers and sponsors are happy and [CBS] is happy. So it all came together in this new venture.

Marketing partner Reese's activations include tickets to the 2012 tournament.NYSJ: Was the feedback from major marketing partners all for the new venture or was there any skepticism or mixed feelings?
CS: Everybody was for it. First of all, everybody was very pleased that CBS Sports was still involved. Especially the people at CBS Sports! [Laughs.] Among out clients, we have 13 NCAA corporate marketing partners who all have multi-year deals in place with us. So they didn't want to see anything being changed as far as CBS' presence. They wanted their deals with CBS to remain in place. Probably going in, the biggest question was, ‘What’s Turner’s role? What’s CBS’ role? Which one do I speak with?’

NYSJ: Considering how much money is involved and how important these marketing partners are, were they consulted at all prior to CBS and Turner finalizing the new deal with the NCAA?

CS: No, because that was a broadcast and marketing rights negotiation that really didn't involve them. But after the deal was finalized, as I said, we sat down with them, we were in contact with them all, to assure them that their deals would remain intact. They actually were excited about Turner's participation because they knew they could now tap into what Turner was bringing to the mix with their three networks, the digital side and other assets across the company. These are opportunities that CBS alone may not have been able to reach with the model under which we were operating. They saw that CBS and Turner together brought complimentary assets, so nobody complained and certainly no one was skeptical after we sat down and talked things out. So considering how some partnerships go, this one worked out especially well for everyone.

Among the growing destinations for tournament fans is March Madness on Demand.NYSJ: Have you heard from other companies that now are interested in becoming corporate partners?
CS: There is good salesmanship and prospecting on the part of CBS and Turner, so we have been out there talking to companies and listening to companies. We have signed three new partners this year [Infiniti, which was involved in previous March Madness tournaments, became an official partner in January; Unilever signed in February; Domino's signed March 10; State Farm, however, in February decided not to renew its deal]. When you think about all the work that has been done in the past nine, ten months, just to get to this point and to get the process up and running has been intense. But it certainly provides more opportunities for clients and corporate partners to be involved with programming in and around the games.

NYSJ: The deal was unveiled last April, but the union between CBS and Turner regarding the NCAA was being talked about long before that. So it wasn't like it was an overnight success.
CS: Right. It was a long time coming. However, I have to say that on the sales side, unlike production and programming side where there have been so many planning meetings, we don't have the benefit of planning meetings. [Laughs.] The way the sports marketplace is, it's been a rough market, very dynamic in the last year-plus on the media side. So we had to be out in the middle of it, out in front of it. And we knew that. So right away we were able to join up our forces, whether it be the broadcast piece or the digital piece, and get everyone [from CBS and Turner] together. And it really seems to have worked. People just can’t believe that two organizations can come together and work this closely in such a short amount of time. We’ve just had to get everyone familiar and comfortable with the process.

NYSJ: Even though CBS has been doing this since 1982, does it seem like freshman year in college because of the new alliance?
CS: A little bit. But obviously we have three-decades of experience from which to work. And we have experience people both in front of the camera and in production who have been doing this. And the people at Turner know what they are doing. The biggest change might be with the viewing audience, which now has the opportunity to see every game live in its entirety, as opposed to watching live [cut-ins].

"When you think about all the work that has been done in the past nine, ten months, just to get to this point and to get the process up and running has been intense."

NYSJ: You said that the marketing partners were happy once the situation was detailed and they saw the new opportunities available. How was it taken internally in the sales and marketing divisions?
CS: Everyone had questions. Because it was a new alliance, everyone was wondering how it would work given that in this intense marketplace, given the opportunity, the mentality is usually divide and conquer. But everyone realized that because we are in such a concentrated space with each other, that there would be greater returns working together rather than working on their own.

NYSJ: Have you had the time yet to look at the new landscape and say to yourself, 'Man, this is a really enormous deal'?
CS: It’s the most unique thing that’s gone on at CBS or any major media company I’ve come in contact with.

NYSJ: With marketers getting the opportunity to air spots across four networks, how does that work as far as the billing process?
CS: [Laughs.] It's pretty complicated. We have to make sure that our system of how clients are trafficking their units and how we are billing them speaks back to the agencies.

Charles Barkley (PHOTO: Turner)NYSJ: On the broadcast side, CBS has a core of established people such as Greg Gumbel, Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Dan Bonner. What benefits have you seen and do you anticipate with the addition of such Turner people as Marv Albert, Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith?
CS: These are experienced people with whom fans are already familiar. So a great benefit is that there is no learning curve needed. We don't have to sell, if that's the word, the credentials of Marv Albert, Charles Barkley. And with TNT, TBS and truTV, they also bring with them a younger demographic. The makeup of the audience on those networks throughout the year is a little bit younger what CBS gets at different points in our schedule. So that helps in that we can expose the tournament to more people. Basically, everyone is blown away by the on-air talent.

NYSJ: There have been promotional commercials that direct views to CBS and the three Turner networks. How will that work as far as specific network programs?
CS: CBS will promote Hawaii Five-O, for example, only on CBS. Turner will promote their shows only on their networks. Network promotions for specific networks will basically stay intact. But there will continue to be crossover commercials for the tournament.

NYSJ: So we are standing together again after the Final Four. What are your thoughts on how the CBS-Turner alliance went in its first year?
CS: I'd say what I feel now: It's been an exciting run. It's energized us a bit. We have done really well with the marketing and media rights over the past nine years, but it's nice to have a partner in crime while doing it.

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