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March Madness ad inventory sold out by CBS and WBD

Championship game spots sold for between US$2.2m and US$2.3m.

10 March 2023 Josh Sim

Getty Images

  • First two March Madness rounds and final stage ad inventory sold out
  • Broadcasters say revenue has surpassed last year’s record total of US$1bn

Ahead of the upcoming National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s national basketball tournament, the March Madness broadcast partners CBS and Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) have confirmed that the majority of in-game tournament ad inventory has sold out.

Speaking to reporters this week, John Bogusz, executive vice president, for CBS Sports sales at Paramount Advertising, said that the airtime for ads on both CBS and WBD’s Turner channels had sold out for the first two rounds of the competition, with a few units still available in the ‘Sweet 16’ broadcasts. Beyond that round, the networks have sold out of inventory, with there potentially being some room for advertisers to buy more units to their existing purchase for the ‘Final Four’ and championship games.

According to Sportico, ad spots during the championship game were priced between US$2.2 million and US$2.3 million, while 30-second units for the earlier rounds were bought for a few hundred-thousand dollars.

Bogusz, who was alongside Jon Diament, WBD’s executive vice president for advertising sales, said both broadcasters had “surpassed their goal for linear dollars,” due to “mid to high single-digit increases” for sales throughout March Madness. Diament revealed that advertising revenue had “significantly surpassed” last year’s record total of US$1 billion, while Bogusz added that a fixed proportion of inventory has been kept back as a hedge against having to compensate buyers in case the TV ratings do not meet the agreed-upon guarantees.

Should both broadcasters meet their projected rating targets, the remaining units will be auctioned off in scatter, and at much higher prices than what they sold units for in last year’s upfront market.

“Our goal is to deliver for all our advertisers with the appropriate number of impressions,” Bogusz explained. “It seems this year that anyone can beat anyone, and in terms of who advances it may not be the blue bloods. So, depending on what happens with our ratings performance, we have to make sure everyone [meets their expectations].”

About 60 per cent of the in-game spots are reserved for the 17 premium backers of the NCAA, with its top sponsors being Capital One, Coca-Cola and halftime sponsor AT&T. Other partners of the collegiate sports association include Buffalo Wild Wings, Nissan and Unilever, with a recent addition being Dick’s Sporting Goods which recently became the NCAA’s sports retail partner.

Diament added that those most active in buying airtime were brands from the automotive, insurance, quick-service restaurants, movie and technology sectors.

SportsPro says…

With the breadth of reach to a large national college basketball audience, that also skews younger, it is no wonder advertisers see the March Madness as a great marketing opportunity. Data from iSpot.tv revealed that household TV ad impressions for last year’s tournament was estimated at 24.2 billion across CBS and WBD’s networks.

Whereas brands have appeared less keen to spend big on advertising for other live sports events that are not the National Football League (NFL), the high-profile college sports tournament is one of few exceptions. According to iSpot, last year’s top ten biggest spenders paid US$247 million for advertising throughout the tournament and it appears likely that the spending has increased for this year’s edition.

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