SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/Media

NCAA tournament spots nearly gone

Ad sales for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are virtually sold out across the CBS and Turner Sports networks more than a month before the event is set to start.

In addition, ads for the popular online service March Madness on Demand are virtually sold out, CBS and Turner executives said, adding that most of the advertisers who bought TV spots also bought time on MMOD.

For the past two years, by comparison, CBS went into March with the tournament 90 percent sold. This year’s near-sell-out levels offer further proof of the strong overall ad marketplace for sports, where even the scatter market continues to be robust (see related story on Daytona 500 sales).

“Business has been really good,” said John Bogusz, executive vice president of sales and marketing for CBS Sports. “We exceeded all of our original goals.”

Rates are up in the high-single-digit percentages, CBS and Turner executives said. They would not disclose the actual cost of 30-second spots during the tournament. Last year, reports had 30-second spots in the Final Four approaching $1.5 million.

As with TV ad sales for other sports, the resurgent automotive category is driving sales for the tournament. Insurance and telecom categories also have been strong, network executives said.

The early sell-out levels should come as a welcome relief to CBS and Turner Sports, which combined sales forces to sell the tournament across four networks — CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV — resulting in greater inventory.

Turner and CBS teamed up last year to pick up NCAA tournament rights for the next 14 years. CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus called the partnership “the most complex and many-sided project that we’ve had at CBS Sports, certainly since I’ve been here.”

By all accounts, the ad sales performance has been an unexpected boom, and executives insist that the integration of the two sales forces has been seamless.

“The marketplace has accepted our combined sales efforts,” said Jon Diament, executive vice president of Turner Sports Ad Sales and Marketing. “I can’t think of one incident where we had a lack of communication with CBS during this process.”

This will be the first time all the tournament games will be telecast in their entirety. Start times will be staggered throughout the tournament. Advertisers generally did not buy the same ad position across all of the networks, but an ad purchase in a specific time period, such as the early games, for example, will run across all networks.

Network executives do not have clearance yet to announce specific advertisers other than three NCAA corporate champions and nine corporate partners, but they did announce that Infiniti will be presenting sponsor of the “NCAA Tip Off” studio show, with AT&T picking up sponsorship of “At the Half” and Buick purchasing presenting sponsorship of the postgame show “Inside March Madness.”

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