SBJ/June 18-24, 2012/Colleges

Turner building NCAA.com as destination spot

It wouldn’t be hard to guess that NCAA.com’s heaviest traffic comes in March during the basketball tournaments. But Turner Sports, which operates the site for the NCAA, says that the period of May-June is a close second.

With spring sports championships wrapping up within a four-week period from late May through June, NCAA.com is experiencing significant upticks in traffic and strong advertising interest, especially from Allstate and Buick.

Those two NCAA corporate partners share presenting sponsor status for the College World Series and other spring sports championships on NCAA.com, where Turner is trying to provide more of a year-round presence for sponsorships that in the past have predominantly revolved around March Madness.

“The idea is to make NCAA.com the destination for fans of all NCAA sports,” said Walker Jacobs, executive vice president of Turner Digital sales.

NCAA.com streams live video of every championship event that ESPN doesn’t have the rights to.

With Buick, Allstate as presenting sponsors of spring sports, NCAA.com aims for year-round presence.
Of the 89 NCAA championships across all divisions, ESPN carries 24 of them, including this week’s College World Series. The rest can be watched live on the NCAA’s website, including the regionals that lead up to the championships. Turner also has highlight video rights and real-time data rights for live game updates for all of the championships.

In the two years that Turner has been running the site, Jacobs has worked with Will Funk’s sales team to incorporate more digital assets into corporate partner deals. In fact, Jacobs or someone from his digital group will routinely go on sales calls with Funk, Turner’s senior vice president for sales and NCAA partnerships.

The financial support from sponsors like Buick and Allstate help NCAA.com broadcast the championships live on the site.

The results were evident in May, when the spring sports championships began. Monthly unique visitors in May were up 24 percent over May 2011. Page views on NCAA.com’s softball page were up 33 percent year over year, while baseball page views were up 26 percent and lacrosse saw a 9 percent jump.

Page views for NCAA.com overall were up 22 percent. Turner’s numbers were based on research from Omniture SiteCatalyst.

“People come to NCAA.com to watch those championship events, but we’re also working very hard to keep the site vibrant even when there aren’t championships going on,” Jacobs said. “Part of the enhanced experience we’re offering now is that a fan of any sport, at any given time of year, can find college sports content on the site.”

Both Allstate and Buick have found NCAA.com to be a useful extension for their March Madness themes.

Allstate has activated with its “Mayhem” campaign that debuted with a sports twist during the basketball tournaments. Buick is continuing its Human Highlight Reel to tell the stories of athletes who have overcome some challenge to excel. Both have video components on the site and their banner ads incorporate creative specifically designed for the College World Series.

Turner called Buick the most active NCAA partner on the site, using its assets with the College World Series as well as championships in softball, lacrosse and the NCAA mobile app.

Those digital buys are separate from the deal ESPN has with Capital One for presenting sponsorship of the College World Series broadcast.

While the NCAA’s corporate partners are the most prolific advertisers on NCAA.com, some non-partners find their way onto the site as well. Among those NCAA.com advertisers that are not NCAA corporate partners are Google, Kellogg’s and John Deere. Turner runs several websites, including CartoonNetwork.com, NBA.com, NASCAR.com (the deal ends this year) and CNN.com, among many others, enabling Jacobs’ digital team to package advertising across multiple sites.

In addition to its own NCAA championship content, NCAA.com is buying rights from various conferences to carry highlight video, stats and other content that will give the site more year-round relevance.

“We’re really interested in expanding into regular-season and conference coverage,” Jacobs said. “We’ve started with football and basketball, and there’s a very natural path forward to make sure the team coverage goes deeper and wider to pay off this position as the college sports destination of choice.”

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