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CBS, Turner near linear, digital sellout of March Madness tournament

Only scattered advertising units remain in the upcoming linear presentation of the 2019 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship. Meanwhile, rights holders CBS Corp.'s CBS Sports and AT&T Inc.'s Turner Broadcasting are in even better shape on the digital ad sales side with NCAA March Madness Live, network executives said.

"The first weekend is tight. There is a little more available on the regional final weekend," John Bogusz, executive vice president of sports sales and marketing at CBS, said in an interview at March Madness Media Day in Manhattan, N.Y., on March 12. He said the first national semifinal on April 6 is sold out, while a few spots remain in the second semifinal that Saturday night and the championship game on April 8.

Overall, Bogusz said, "we're in good shape, about 95% sold out," a level matching the 2018 tournament's sales pace.

Asked if inventory was being held back in the event marquee matchups materialize, Bogusz said the sales teams are ready to take orders.

"We typically sell the tournament until the end of March," he said.

Both Bogusz and Jon Diament, executive vice president of Turner Sports ad sales, dismissed the notion that the tournament is easier to sell when CBS (US) — which alternates year to year with Turner Sports — airs the Final Four contests and the title tilt. Diament said interest remains high regardless and 50% of the inventory sold in the tournament comes through multiyear pacts.

AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola are on board as NCAA Corporate Champions, and there are 14 other companies on the NCAA Corporate Partners roster, cutting across an array of categories, including Google Cloud, Intel, Lowe's, Unilever, Infiniti and Buick. The latter group now includes freshmen partners GEICO and Uber Eats, which has driven a deal as the official delivery company of the NCAA. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, no longer a corporate partner, still has a sizable presence in the tournament, according to Bogusz.

Typically, corporate champions and partners account for over 50% of inventory sold in the tournament.

SNL ImageBill Raftery, Grant Hill and Jim Nantz
will call the 2019 Final Four
Source: CBS Sports

As for NCAA March Madness Live, fans will be able to watch the game and highlights, pull up stats, check their brackets and assess team analytics from 17 different devices, including Facebook Inc.'s Oculus Go virtual reality product. Bogusz said March Madness Live inventory is "almost sold out and is at a somewhat higher volume this year than last."

Diament and Bogusz said that upward of 80% of advertisers have schedules in both the linear and digital offerings, noting that is how a growing number of fans consume the tournament.

While there is a large crossover of advertisers, that does not necessarily mean that viewers will see the same creative in the same pods when watching on the linear networks or via March Madness Live.

"The ads are dynamically inserted into the digital platforms," said Bogusz. "There are different [commercial] reels."

This year, First Four action is set from Dayton, Ohio, on March 19 and 20, with truTV (US) providing the coverage as part of a 13-game slate overall. TNT (US) has a dozen first- and second-round matchups, while TBS (US) has 18, notably Elite 8 and Sweet 16 action.

All told, CBS will broadcast 24 games across all levels of the tournament except for the First Four. NCAA March Madness Live and its various platforms will present all 67 contests.