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Executive Director Bill Hancock, COO Michael Kelly and the rest of the 12-person team from the CFP blanketed all of the NCAA’s fan events throughout Final Four weekend to gauge what might work for the football national championship.
The format for the CFP’s initial championship game on Monday, Jan. 12, at AT&T Stadium is starting to come together.
Kelly, the former president of three Super Bowl host committees, kept his eye on three primary aspects of the Final Four: the fan fest, music and entertainment, and on-site events at AT&T Stadium.
The NCAA’s fan plaza outside the stadium was one idea that resonated with College Football Playoff executives.
Photo by:AP IMAGES
Football teams in the championship game will arrive in Dallas that Friday evening. Fan events, most likely in downtown Dallas, will begin Saturday and run through Sunday.
But when game day hits on Monday, Kelly wants all of the focus on AT&T Stadium with a full day of events beginning in the morning and leading up to what likely will be an 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff. That will be coordinated with the CFP’s broadcast and marketing partner, ESPN.
While the NCAA and its partners, Turner and CBS, followed a similar script, there are some differences. On Saturday of the Final Four, an afternoon and evening of concerts at Reunion Park in Dallas conflicted with game times of the two semifinals. The NCAA does that to provide a fan experience for those who don’t have tickets to the game.
Kelly said the CFP will avoid any conflicts in timing on game day.
“It was definitely interesting that they had the concerts as late as they did” on a game day, Kelly said. “We see the residents and visitors taking part in ancillary events through the weekend, but on game day all of the focus will be on Arlington.”
Kelly said he liked how the NCAA created an outdoor fan plaza just outside the stadium’s east end zone with food, beer sales, music and some fan-fest activities.
The CFP will look to create some type of fan village on game day that will give fans a reason to get to the stadium early and spend the day there. The CFP also will work with the schools to create alumni tailgate areas, similar to how the Rose Bowl ran alumni tailgates on the adjoining golf course in Pasadena.
“We’d like to have some kind of large-scale event that adds value for the patrons,” Kelly said. “Tailgating is such a big part of the culture in college football, and getting them to the stadium early on game day will help avoid the huge crush of traffic at certain times.”
Kelly said the CFP will bring in an agency or multiple agencies to help with ancillary events, and those discussions are ongoing.
A crowd in excess of the stadium’s 80,000 capacity is expected. Kelly said the CFP will likely sell standing-room-only tickets. About 3,000 tickets are being sold as part of hospitality packages by CFP partners.
Kelly said at least half of the tickets and maybe more will be sold through the two competing schools to maintain a college environment at the game.
■ DISJOINTED IN DALLAS: The disjointed nature of the Final Four stood out to some industry experts. Fan events were in downtown Dallas, the games were in Arlington and the fans were all over. Some marketers said that dynamic robbed this Final Four of the unique feel associated with four fan bases in one centralized area.
“You didn’t get the energy you typically get from a Final Four,” said Michelle Berg, executive vice president at Team Epic, whose client AT&T is an NCAA corporate champion. “You didn’t see the pop-up merchandise tents on every corner. The feel of a big event just wasn’t there.”
The format for Bracket Town, sponsored by Capital One, was familiar. All three corporate champions — AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola — activated with huge footprints in the Dallas Convention Center. Corporate partners Allstate, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buick, Burger King, LG, Lowe’s and UPS had spaces inside Bracket Town as well. Buffalo Wild Wings and Burger King were new this year.
The integration of social media was evident throughout the fan fest, which struck J.W. Cannon, director of sponsorships and events at UPS.
“There really seemed to be an overemphasis on integration of social and technology,” Cannon said. “Everywhere you looked, there was a unique hashtag, or ‘Share this on Instagram/Facebook.’ It really showcased how important social has become to all of our collective businesses as sponsors.”
Mike Wilhelm, senior vice president of client services at Momentum, said creativity can sometimes be in short supply in a sports-themed fan fest.
“How many things can you do with a basketball goal?” said Wilhelm, whose clients at Momentum include Coca-Cola, UPS and others. “You’ve got to find ways to get consumers hands-on with your product and do it in a basketball context.”
Some sponsors achieve that better than others.
“Sometimes it can be like a logo-fest,” Berg said. “Slap your logo on a court and let the kids play. It’s a big expense to be there. Partners need to push harder to make a statement of why they’re there.”
■ BEER IN BRACKET TOWN: Who says the NCAA is stuck in the dark ages? For the second straight year, a space inside Bracket Town sold beer.
Right in the middle of Bracket Town was the footprint for Buffalo Wild Wings, an NCAA corporate partner that was new to the Final Four last year. Beer sold for $5 and $6, depending on the brand.
The space was branded the Buffalo Wild Wings Sports Lounge, and it’s safe to say it was one of the most popular hangouts for fans. At the 2013 Bracket Town in Atlanta, beer was sold for the first time in a smaller space called the Bleacher Report Sports Lounge.
This is not the only NCAA-endorsed space at its 89 championships where beer is sold. Alcohol typically is not sold inside the competition venues, except in premium areas, but the NCAA has sold beer at fan fests for men’s ice hockey, men’s lacrosse, FCS football and wrestling in past years.
Turner Live Events, a division of Turner Broadcasting, manages and markets Bracket Town.
■ ON THE GO: Chris Curtis, the CEO of Argyle, Texas-based GoVision, was pulled in several different directions during Final Four weekend. His company, which provides LED screens to sports and entertainment events, was in the midst of the highest-grossing weekend in its 11 years. In all, GoVision had more than 8,000 square feet of LED screens in use during Final Four weekend with a technical crew of 55 people. And that didn’t count GoVision screens at the NASCAR event at nearby Texas Motor Speedway or the Shell Houston Open, both of which were held on Final Four weekend.
GoVision provided video screens for a temporary display under the permanent board.
Photo by:MICHAEL SMITH / STAFF
“I think I’m spending more time with my duties on the host committee than with my business,” Curtis said with a laugh. But as he gazed around the interior of AT&T Stadium, evidence of GoVision was everywhere.
The company provided the LED video boards for a temporary center-hung display underneath the 60-yard-long permanent video board. The permanent board is so long that anyone within 25 rows of the basketball court wouldn’t be able to see it, so GoVision was brought in to create a smaller center-hung version.
The four-sided, scaled-down model of the center-hung board used two 18-foot-by-40-foot screens flanked on the ends by a pair of 15-foot-by-18-foot screens.
■ TIP-INS: The Final Four wasn’t the same without Jim Host, who missed the championship for the first time since 1975 after taking a bad fall. Now running Volar Video and iHigh.com, Host was the founder of the NCAA’s corporate partner program in the 1980s, and before that he broadcast the games on radio. He says he’s on the mend and plans to be back to full speed in a few weeks. … Ken Haines, the longtime CEO of Raycom Sports, attended the Final Four for the 37th straight year. … One of the weekend’s coolest events was the NCAA’s “Salute” to the four teams. The Thursday evening event at the Dallas Convention Center, hosted by Jim Nantz, featured a surprise appearance by former President George W. Bush. Wisconsin senior Zach Bohannon, who is working on his MBA and was an academic all-Big Ten athlete this season, was invited to the stage and took a selfie with Bush. … IMG College and Learfield teamed up to throw their annual industry party on Friday night at Gilley’s in Dallas. There was no sign of the mechanical bull. The two competitors in collegiate multimedia rights have been throwing the Final Four bash since 2000. It started out as an intimate gathering of athletic directors and a few coaches, but close to 1,000 people were expected at the party at Gilley’s and the two companies split the cost of about $150,000.
During the first three years of CBS and Turner’s NCAA tournament partnership, it was clear who held the most influence: CBS had the biggest games and posted the biggest ratings for the event.
This year, though, marked the first time TBS carried Elite Eight and Final Four games. While CBS still posted some of the tournament’s biggest ratings, it is not a surprise that TBS’s four most viewed NCAA tournament games since it acquired the package in 2011 came this year.
Kentucky has proved to be the most popular NCAA tournament team over the past four years, as Wildcat games have accounted for five of the tournament’s 10 biggest audiences, not including championship games. During that time, Kentucky played in three of the four Final Fours.
Kentucky’s Final Four game against Connecticut in 2011 averaged 16.7 million viewers on CBS, ranking second only to last year’s Michigan-Syracuse Final Four game (17.1 million viewers). The Kentucky-focused “Teamcast” around the Final Four earlier this month is TNT’s fourth most viewed game over the four years the channel has carried tournament games.
Pittsburgh is at the other end of the viewing spectrum, having competed in the two least viewed NCAA tournament games since 2011. This year’s second-round game against Colorado averaged just 508,000 viewers on TBS, and 2011’s second-round game against UNC Asheville averaged 510,000.
TruTV, which was the least distributed of all networks with 91 million homes, posted the lowest ratings of the four channels carrying games. Surprisingly, its most viewed game over the past four years was this year’s First Four matchup between Tennessee and Iowa. The game averaged 2.2 million viewers.
Ratings for TNT games have not been as high as the ones for TBS. TNT is in 97 million homes, and TBS is in 98 million, according to the most recent Nielsen numbers.
Top NCAA tournament telecasts for each channel
Most watched nontitle NCAA Men’s March Madness games, by network, in the four seasons since the organization’s rights deal with Turner and CBS began.
DATE (START) MATCHUP (ROUND) VIEWERS (000s) Sat., April 6, 2013 (9:11) Michigan-Syracuse (Final Four) 17,104 Sat., April 2, 2011 (8:57) UConn-Kentucky (Final Four) 16,715 Sat., March 31, 2012 (8:52) Kansas-Ohio State (Final Four) 16,603 Sun., March 31, 2013 (4:55) Louisville-Duke (Elite Eight) 15,600 Sun., March 27, 2011 (4:56) Kentucky-North Carolina (Elite Eight) 15,082
DATE (START) MATCHUP (ROUND) VIEWERS (000s) Sun., March 18, 2012 (8:42) Kansas-Purdue (Third Round) 4,432 Sun., March 20, 2011 (6:00) Arizona-Texas (Third Round) 4,408 Sun., March 20, 2011 (8:52) Kansas-Illinois (Third Round) 4,408 Sat., April 5, 2014 (9:00) Kentucky-Wisconsin* (Final Four) 4,300 Sat., March 23, 2013 (8:35) Wichita State-Gonzaga (Third Round) 4,178
DATE (START) MATCHUP (ROUND) VIEWERS (000s) Sat., April 5, 2014 (9:00) Kentucky-Wisconsin (Final Four) 10,386 Sat., March 29, 2014 (8:38) Wisconsin-Arizona (Elite Eight) 9,967 Sat., March 29, 2014 (6:00) Florida-Dayton (Elite Eight) 7,203 Sat., April 5, 2014 (5:56) UConn-Florida (Final Four) 7,099 Fri., March 29, 2013 (10:30) Florida-Florida Gulf Coast (Sweet 16) 6,739
DATE (START) MATCHUP (ROUND) VIEWERS (000s) Wed, March 19, 2014 (9:17) Tennessee-Iowa (First Four) 2,227 Sun., March 20, 2011 (7:30) Marquette-Syracuse (Third Round) 2,215 Thurs., March 21, 2013 (7:38) Cal-UNLV (Second Round) 2,090 Sun., March 18, 2012 (7:55) Xavier-Lehigh (Third Round) 1,995 Sun., March 23, 2014 (8:00) Baylor-Creighton (Third Round) 1,865
* The Final Four for the first time this year featured “Teamcasts” of each game. For the Kentucky-Wisconsin game, Kentucky-focused announcers broadcast the game on TNT, while Wisconsin-focused announcers called the game on truTV. The national telecast was TBS’s most watched game of the 2014 tournament.
Note: All times are p.m., ET
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Nielsen data