By Barry Janoff
March 14, 2013: Unlike March, which comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, the same can not be said for the 2013 version of March Madness, which will come in like Bulldogs (Gonzaga), Wildcats (Creighton), Blackbirds (LIU Brooklyn), Jackrabbits (South Dakota State) and Blue Devils (Duke), but is uncertain how it will go out.
That's good news for fans, marketers, the NCAA and CBS and Turner Broadcasting, the two media companies now entering the third year of a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal to cover in unison the NCAA Div. I men's basketball tournament from start — the First Four on March 19-20 — to finish: the Final Four on April 6 and April 8 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
In 2012, more than 176 million people tuned into the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship. In addition, NCAA.com/March Madness Live, CBSSports.com, truTV.com, TNT.tv, TBS.com and SI.com had more than 220 million visits across online and mobile platforms from the First Four through the Final Four, an 11% increase from 198 million in 2011, according to Turner.
Marketers literally are paying attention. Last year, for the first time in March Madness history, companies spent more than $1 billion in advertising, according to marketing and research firm Kantar Media, NY. That not only put the Tournament ahead of the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl XLVI ($975.3 million), but was almost as much as the combined ad money spent during the post-seasons for the NBA ($536.9 million), MLB ($354.1 million) and NHL ($101.1 million), per Kantar.
In 2012, more than 80 companies advertised during the Tournament, 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&T ($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).
In addition, Internet, mobile and other forms of media have become more prevalent. This year, March Madness Live, produced by Turner Sports, will offer in addition to free streaming of the 67 games comprising the Tournament, more access to highlights, information and dedicated destinations from such NCAA partners as Coca-Cola, AT&T and Capital One.
Selection Sunday will air on CBS on March 17; the First Four on Turner's truTV and the ensuing rounds on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV en route to the Final Four on CBS. NYSportsJournalism spoke with Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports; and David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports for Turner Broadcasting, about the marketing, management and media for the 2013 edition of March Madness.
NYSportsJournalism.com: What is your assessment of the first two years of the CBS-Turner alliance?
Sean McManus: We couldn't be happier about how it's gone so far. It seems like just yesterday we were talking about this new partnership we had formed, looking at the ideas David wrote down on a cocktail napkin, and how it would be good for everyone. We had very lofty assumptions that first year as far as revenue, viewership, sales and empowering viewers. I'm here to say that we've exceeded all of our expectations. Viewership is growing, and revenue and marketing has been better than we expected. The production value has been first-rate. But we're still trying to improve every year.
David Levy: People thought that 14 years was a long time for a deal. Now, you see 15-, 20-year deals among other media companies. And it was unheard of that we would be sending viewers from CBS to TNT and from TBS to CBS.
NYSJ: Was there much kickback from viewers about having to become channel-changers?
SL: We did have concerns the first year, which is why we went out of our way and were so aggressive in telling viewers and helping them navigate. The consistency has been really, really good. We thought that the navigation of this production was important, and we worked hard to help viewers move from CBS to TNT, TBS or truTV. And we worked hard to let them know it was okay to go from one network to another by showing them where the best action was at that moment, by telling them on-air and with graphics that if you're watching a game on CBS [in which the outcome] has been decided, you should go to TBS to see a game that is more intense.
DL: This medium we are in is critical about change. It usually takes time for viewers to adjust. This was almost instantaneous. Live sports is the best form of entertainment. But you have to be aware of how viewers use their time. The viewer comes first, and we wanted to let them choose and to let them know they could choose.
NYSJ: Was there a moment when you said, 'This is working!'?
SM: A [watershed] moment for me came when I heard Marv Albert [who works for Turner] on-air promoting 60 Minutes [on CBS]. That told me the merger of two teams had worked.
DL: [Laughs.] When I heard [CBS lead announcer] Jim Nantz doing a promo for Lizard Lick Towing [on truTV]!
NYSJ: CBS this year broadcast Super Bowl XLVII, with the strategy of using a cross-platform of shows to support and enhance, including CBS Evening News, CBS This Morning, Face The Nation and The Talk? How would you assess that strategy?
SM: The strategy worked great. We were the focus of attention in New Orleans, in Jackson Square [where production facilities were set up]. Shows like The Talk and the CBS Sports Network shows all got a lot of exposure, and a lot of quality exposure. That exhibited what a company can do if you surround a big event such as the Super Bowl. It was a success, especially when you consider that we did 15 different CBS shows basically from one location. Plus the radio network, which we were launching a that time, got a lot of exposure. So it was successful for the entire corporation and not just CBS Sports.
NYSJ: Would you try something like that for the Final Four, maybe using Conan O'Brien, actors from Cougar Town, Dallas or Lizard Lick Towing?
DL: I couldn't say we've talked about that. But we're still exploring the options available to us, we're still learning how to embrace this coverage. How to use [elements] appropriately.
NYSJ: Social media has become more prevalent, even from 2011 when this alliance began. What role will it play this year?
SM: Anything that drives conversation and interest adds to the overall experience. [Social media] is not something we do in addition to the network broadcasts, it is part of it. So when you see more support on the Internet and social media platforms from [CBS and Turner], from the NCAA, from marketing partners, that is by design to drive awareness and enhance the Tournament.
DL: We are always looking for ways to enhance the product, as long as it's not intrusive. March Madness Live will offer multi-screen access and and more enhancements for viewers and fans to interact. Social media is more important than it was even two years ago, but there's always a question of balance. It can't intrude; it has to add to the game. Social media is a big part of the reason why sports ratings on TV are up. You have to embrace it. And we are. I believe that whether you are on Twitter, Facebook, Web sites, sports is the No. 1 thing that people talk about.
NYSJ: Kantar Media just released a report which showed that advertising during March Madness last year topped $1 billion for the first time. How does that reflect what CBS and Turner are doing?
DL: As Sean said, by every metric is over-delivering for this business model that we designed. Ad sales. Ratings. Impressions. Uniques who are logging on. And revenue is one of them.
"Social media is a big part of the reason why TV sports ratings are up. You have to embrace it. And we are. On Twitter, Facebook, it's the No. 1 thing people talk about."
NYSJ: Two years ago, the First Four was just starting and people really weren't sure about it. Now it has become important because people have come to realize that it's the First Round of the Tournament. Is that in part because of the marketing support you have put behind it, in part because of fan awareness, or something else?
SM: It's a combination of marketing and growing fan awareness. The fact that we assigned Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr as the broadcast team, and the fact that the production quality for the First Four is as high as it is for the Final Four, immediately told people that the Tournament starts now. And maybe more than anything else, people are dying for the Tournament to start. It used to be that after Selection Sunday, you had until Thursday to fill out your brackets. Now, you only have until Tuesday. And no one is complaining. Just the opposite. They can't wait for it to start.
DL: We also got lucky the first year. And sometimes, I'd rather be lucky than good. The first year  Virginia Commonwealth played in the First Four and made it all the way to the Final Four. That legitimized the First Round.
NYSJ: Does it work better for network coverage if the underdogs and Cinderella teams make a lot of noise or if the strong teams make it all the way through?
SM: You always want to see a combination. National, traditional powers and the teams that fight their way up. That makes for great coverage.
DL: I don't know that we would want all Cinderella teams [in the Final Four]. You want to see powerhouse teams in there, you want to see them get deep into the Tournament. If there is a mix in the Final Four, that makes for good drama.
NYSJ: When you are dealing with companies that are officially aligned with the NCAA and, in turn, the Tournament, are you finding in the third year of this alliance between CBS and Turner that they want to be more creative, become more involved with the broadcast across all four networks as well as social media, mobile, etc.?
DL: We are. They're looking at every aspect. Where can we put more corporate signage. How much more visible can we be. But that is also coming from the NCAA, which wants to get more from their corporate sponsors. But, again, there has to be a balance. And it can not be intrusive.
NYSJ: Any other insights into this year's Tournament?
SM: During each season, star players emerge, especially once the Tournament starts. This year, the season itself is the overall storyline. The enthusiasm has shifted from individuals to the Tournament and team story lines.
DL: I'm excited that the Final Four will be in Atlanta, where Turner is based. But it's also been nightmare for me in some ways. [Laughs.] Everyone wants tickets.
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