NCAA March Madness prepares return to normal


A general view of the March Madness logo prior to the game between the Syracuse Orange and the Houston Cougars in the 2021 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Aaron Doster | USA TODAY Sports | Reuters

After two rocky, pandemic-ravaged years, the March Madness we all know so well is coming back.

The 2022 Men’s NCAA Tournament begins Thursday on CBS Sports and Turner Sports. The Disney properties ABC and ESPN will be broadcast Women’s NCAA Tournament from Friday.

Executives from Paramount Global and WarnerMedia spoke Tuesday to promote March Madness, which promises to pay out nearly $1 billion in ad revenue on the men’s side.

“The country is ready for them [NCAA] tournament,” said Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports.

“We’re getting back to normal,” added Turner Sports President Lenny Daniels. “And we want to take that and take it a step further.”

The networks lost the 2020 NCAA tournament due to Covid. The 2021 event took place in a bubble and saw the Baylor Bears win their first NCAA men’s basketball championship.

But this year’s tournament includes the return of legendary programs Duke and Kentucky – both of whom missed last year’s tournament – and legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski chasing his last title with the Blue Devils.

Can the men’s tournament attract 20 million viewers?

The production of this year’s NCAA tournament doesn’t change all that much. During the games there will again be a virtual shot clock on the field. There will be in-game coach interviews, and Final Four games will have rail and sky cameras integrated into broadcasts.

But will more viewers watch than last year?

The 2021 NCAA Championship game between the undefeated Gonzaga and Baylor drew an average of 16.9 million viewers for CBS Sports, a 14% decrease from the 2019 game. It was also the least-watched championship to air on CBS since the network began airing the games in 1982.

The 2021 men’s Final Four games drew an average of 14.9 million viewers.

The NCAA men’s tournament returns to Turner Sports this year for the first time since 2018 when Villanova defeated the University of Michigan. This title game attracted around 16.5 million viewers.

CBS and Turner have rotated the Final Four since 2016. The last time the NCAA men’s championship game surpassed 20 million was in 2017 when the University of North Carolina played Gonzaga. This game attracted approximately 22 million viewers.

On Tuesday’s conference call, McManus wouldn’t predict viewership for the 2022 tournament, but added, “Good games, good storylines, and we know if a Cinderella shows up, that’s good for ratings.”

He also noted that more prominent programs returning to the tournament should support viewership. In addition, the measurement company Nielsen will be merged outside of the house Viewership with the final readings. Out-of-home TVs are counted in places like airports, restaurants, and sports bars. Nielsen previously only provided home metrics for its linear TV reports.

McManus said Nielsen’s decision to combine the metrics was “good for the network and good for our sponsors, and it really gives an accurate count of how many people are consuming our content.”

For women, Disney hopes to top last year’s title game between Arizona and Stanford. The competition drew an average of 4 million viewers and was the most watched women’s competition since 2014.

The 2021 women’s semifinals featuring Stanford and South Carolina drew an average of 1.6 million viewers, while the University of Connecticut’s loss to Arizona drew 2.6 million viewers, up 24% from the 2019 second semifinal. Sweet 16 games that Aired on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 918,000 viewers, a 67% increase over 2019.

A detailed view of the March Madness logo on center court as players from the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Norfolk State Spartans walk by during the second half of the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Kirby Lee | USA TODAY Sports | Reuters

March Madness ads are sold out

Ad inventory surrounding the 2022 men’s tournament has sold out, said John Bogusz, executive vice president of distribution at CBS Network. Thirty-second places for the tournament range from hundreds of thousands of dollars in the earlier rounds to more than $2 million for the NCAA title game.

Bogusz said the auto, insurance and fast food categories are “very active and very strong this year.” Film studios are also returning to ad rotation, while travel and technology companies will also advertise around the games.

TV advertising measurement company I see It is estimated that advertising spend surrounding the 2021 Men’s Basketball Tournament was approximately $1.05 billion, up 21.4% from the 2019 tournament. The company told CNBC that AT&T spent $74.7 million on Dollars spent the most on ads related to the 2021 tournament. Capital One spent $48.7 million on ads, Geico ($46.7 million), Buick ($39.5 million) and Progressive ($37.7 million).

Asked about the estimates and whether advertising spending surrounding the 2022 men’s tournament would surpass $1 billion, Bogusz didn’t provide details, but added that the forecast was “in range.”

“It’s pretty impressive,” Turner Sports chief revenue officer Jon Diament said of ad spend. Diament noted how much time the networks have to air the games – “Three weeks of activity…it’s quite outstanding that we can gobble up that money in just one three-week flight.”

Last September, the NCAA announced that the 2022 NCAA Women’s Tournament would be included under the March Madness brand. The decision came after growing pressure and criticism about the organization’s initial stance of using the brand only for the men’s tournament.

Said EPSN It also sold out its inventory for the women’s tournament. 22 advertisers including Apple, General Motors, Target and T-Mobile will run ads during the games.

The sports programming ad marketplace remains a top buy for advertisers. The National Football League’s Super Bowl remains the most expensive inventory. CNBC parent company NBCUniversal charged around $6.5 million for Super Bowl 56 commercials, and some brands paid a record-breaking $7 million for a 30-second ad.

Nevertheless, the high prices for sports programs do not deter companies. Bogusz said “advertisers from all demo groups are providing additional dollars” to purchase inventory.

“It offers the best drama in all of television and for many advertisers it’s still the most compelling program that can be had,” said McManus. “And that includes the NCAA tournament.”

When asked if the NCAA men’s tournament would rise to $3 million per 30 seconds when CBS returns to the event in 2023, Bogusz replied, “I wouldn’t say it would be that high. However, we assume that prices will increase as time goes on.”

Demonstrators protest against the war in Ukraine in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

Kay Nietfeld/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

War Contingency Plans

As networks hail the return to normal for March Madness, there are contingency plans in place to update the latest top news – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“There are more important things happening in the world right now than the NCAA tournament,” said McManus. “Nobody will pretend that the action in court is as important as the life-and-death action taking place in Ukraine,” he added.

McManus referred to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq to explain how the network would approach coverage. He said the networks would update the war in Ukraine as needed and “deal with it as best we can.”

“We have two of the best production companies and two of the best news outlets,” Daniels added, citing CBS News and CNN. “I think we will make the right decisions.”


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