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'Earliest' March Madness sellout will yield record ad revenues for CBS, Turner

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'Earliest' March Madness sellout will yield record ad revenues for CBS, Turner

Buoyed by strong pricing gains amid a robust sports marketplace, Paramount Global's CBS Sports and Warner Media LLC's Turner Sports have essentially sold all linear and digital inventory for the 2022 March Madness basketball tournament. Together, they will generate record-setting ad revenue for the event.

The 67-game NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, which tips off with the First Four March 15, has tallied "very close to double-digit" percentage gains over the 2021 event, said John Bogusz, executive vice president of sports sales and marketing of CBS network sales.

Unit pricing for 30-second commercials range from "a couple of hundred thousand dollars" for early-round games to "well over" $2 million in the championship game, Bogusz told reporters during a March 8 virtual press conference.

"For all practical purposes, the tournament is sold out," he said. "We've written more ad revenue in this tournament than we ever have before."

This is the "earliest sellout" for the tournament, said Jon Diament, executive vice president and chief revenue officer for Turner Sports. Diament attributed the robust sales to the power of live sports.

$1 billion market

Asked whether the tournament will pull in about $1 billion in national TV advertising spend on both CBS and Turner networks, Bogusz said the company could not provide an "overall number," though he added, "You are in the range with that number."

Last year, iSpot.tv Inc. estimated the partners collected $1.05 billion in national TV ad sales for the 2021 tournament, excluding streaming and local ad sales contributions. That was up 21.4% from $865.1 million with the 2019 event.

The 2020 tournament was canceled due to the pandemic, just days before its scheduled start. The 2021 tournament was staged entirely at venues in Indiana before limited crowds.

This year, after opening with the First Four from Dayton, Ohio, on March 15 and 16, March Madness will return to regional sites, and it is slated to play out before full fan contingents.

Corporate sponsor commitments

More than 60% of tournament ad dollars will come from 17 NCAA Corporate Champions and Partners, Bogusz said.

Automotive, insurance and fast-food companies will be "very active" with the upcoming event, according to Bogusz.

Turner's Diament said movie studios and travel advertisers, following the pandemic's interruptions of their businesses, have returned to the tournament roster. The technology category is still "bursting for all the different kinds of phones and services out there," he said.

The sales effort excludes buys from the operators in the red-hot sports-betting category that has helped lift the overall sports marketplace. At this point, the NCAA bars gambling ads during its events.

Streaming, out-of-home assists

All told, commercials will air across 21 games on the CBS (US) broadcast network and in local markets on streaming service Paramount+. TBS (US) will air 21, while truTV (US) and TNT (US) will run 13 and 12, respectively. Inventory within streaming service March Madness Live is also accounted for through package deals.

"Advertisers eat up" the multiplatform presentation of the tournament, Diament said. That is especially true during the first round, with daytime viewing occurring in workplaces and sports bars. This year, those games will unfold March 17 and 18.

CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, in a separate conference with reporters, said he expects there will be a "pretty significant" increase to the tournament's overall audience delivery stemming from Nielsen Holdings PLC's inclusion of out-of-home viewing from other people's homes and various establishments.

Of blue bloods and Coach K

While early upsets by Cinderella teams can drive interest in the tournament, Bogusz said as the field narrows, viewership most benefits from strong showings from blue-blood programs. Those brands deliver large audiences to the various screens, he said.

Perennial powers Duke, Kentucky and Louisville did not qualify for the 2021 version of March Madness.

Tournament watching, on the other hand, could benefit from geographic diversity. Diament said there are strong contenders this year from the West in Gonzaga, Arizona and UCLA, while defending champion Baylor hails from the Southwest. Diament said that gives March Madness good representation across the entire country and could lead to additional viewership, especially in later windows.

The Turner executive added that it is always nice to have a good storyline entering the event, which this year centers on the final season for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Viewers can expect significant coverage around the history of the program and the career of "Coach K" if the Blue Devils make a long run.

The 2021 tournament averaged 9 million viewers across linear and authenticated TV Everywhere devices and on March Madness Live, according to Nielsen data, down 14% from 10.5 million viewers in 2019.

In search of alternate telecasts

Under their rights deal with the NCAA, CBS Sports and Turner Sports alternate coverage of the Final Four and championship games, with TBS this year televising those three marquee matchups.

Turner has yet to disclose its plans for supplemental telecasts around the national semifinals and title tilt. Previously, TBS' national feed has been flanked by "team streams" on truTV and TNT, with announcers and coverage oriented toward the participating schools.

Turner Sports President Lenny Daniels said on a March 8 press call the programmer will veer from the team-oriented approach, but it is still deciding on what alternative content will appear on the simulcasts.

Diament said tournament advertisers for TBS feeds of those games will be cumulated into TNT and truTV's coverage.