Dome for a home
The NCAA had experimented with playing the Final Four in a dome. The 1971 championships were held in the Astrodome and the 1982 Final Four was played in the Superdome. But in the 1990s, with the tournament growing and
|The RCA Dome in Indianapolis played host to the championship in 1997.
Using a minimum seating capacity of 30,000 as its gauge, the committee effectively eliminated traditional arenas from competing for a Final Four. In 2003, the committee made 40,000 the minimum capacity.
“I remember those discussions vividly. They were lengthy and spirited,” said Tom Jernstedt, the former NCAA executive vice president who for 38 years had oversight of the tournament. “The question was asked over and over: Is this the right thing to do for the tournament? Everyone agreed that playing in an arena is more fun to watch and offers a better atmosphere. That’s a given. … Most say that revenue was the driving factor, and that was a consideration, but it really came down to the number of tickets available. We had a lot of constituents who needed tickets, and too often, the competing schools were getting only 1,000 to 1,500 each. Every [athletic director] who made a Final Four said tickets were the biggest nightmare. We just couldn’t stay in a conventional building.”
During those committee meetings, Jernstedt shared his experiences from New Orleans in 1982, when he walked through sections of the Superdome with the worst seats. The NCAA was so worried about sight lines that the tickets were actually published with the distance from the seat to the court.
“As I talked to people, they said they knew what they were getting when they bought the tickets, so nine out of 10 of
them were OK with the seats,” Jernstedt said.
The power of promotion
One of the turning points in the early days of the NCAA’s corporate sponsor program was the first co-branded promotion by Pizza Hut and Rawlings around 1987. But the deal came with a high degree of risk for Pizza Hut, something its marketing chief, David Novak, wasn’t sure he was ready for. The promotion called for Pizza Hut to buy 2 million basketballs from Rawlings for $2.17 each and re-sell them for $2.99 with the purchase of $10 or more in pizza.
Novak, now the CEO at Yum Brands, had visions of unsold basketballs sitting in Pizza Hut closets all over the country.
|Pizza Hut's promo ball from 1991.|
Each of the balls had the Final Four logo, and marks representing Pizza Hut and the NCAA. They were shipped to a central location and distributed to Pizza Hut restaurants around the country. On that Selection Sunday, Novak called Host with an urgent message. “Stop advertising. We’re sold out of basketballs.”
“That promotion dramatically helped expand the brand of the Final Four,” Host said. “Pizza Hut ran the promotion for the next eight years and it was huge every year. Up to that point, the Final Four wasn’t really recognized that much as a brand. It really spoke to the power of the promotion and helped establish a brand.”
“The promotion made Pizza Hut the largest retailer of basketballs in the country,” said T.J. Nelligan, who worked with Host before starting his own agency, Nelligan Sports Marketing. “It was so successful that sporting goods stores were upset the promotion was destroying their price points and they were losing sales to a pizza restaurant.”
A Coke, a smile and a big check
The genesis of Coca-Cola’s staggering 11-year, $135 million NCAA sponsorship signed in 2002 could be traced to a Pepsi in Jim Host’s refrigerator.
Before Coke won the mega-deal and started its relationship with the NCAA, Pepsi sponsored the soft drink category.
|Fans flock to the Big Dance concert series sponsored by Coke Zero in 2010.
A year earlier, in 2001, was when Coke positioned itself for the deal. Herbert Allen III entered Host’s office for a friendly visit. Even though Host knew Allen’s father was on the board at Coca-Cola, Host offered a Pepsi from his office fridge. Allen was a bit perturbed.
Host didn’t know it at the time, but he had triggered a bidding war. Only a few hours after Allen had departed, Host received a call from Doug Daft, then the CEO of Coke.
“Doug said, ‘Jim, I want to come talk to you about the NCAA rights,’” Host said. “I told him that Pepsi already had the deal, and he said he wanted to meet with me and start a relationship.”
Weeks later, Daft and longtime Coke executive Scott McCune flew to Lexington, Ky., to meet with Host, which started a relationship that led to Coke’s NCAA deal. Former COO Steve Heyer negotiated the deal and Coke won the rights in 2002, just as CBS was taking over the NCAA’s marketing program.
Until that point, the NCAA’s program was called corporate sponsorship and didn’t include TV advertising. Under the reformed model in 2002, CBS ad units were included in the deals, and the name was changed to corporate champion (the highest level) and corporate partner. Coke has been a corporate champion ever since.
“It was a game-changer because those sponsorships were going for about $1 million to $1.5 million a year back then,” Host said. “Nobody had paid the amount of money that Coke did. It led to a complete reconstruction of the corporate program.”
CBS and Turner team up
When CBS’s Sean McManus phoned Turner Sports’ David Levy to gauge his interest on a joint NCAA bid, Levy’s response was direct.
Many of the NCAA tournament’s major turning points have been media driven, from the first live broadcast to the first billion-dollar contract and March Madness Live. When CBS and Turner teamed to broadcast every NCAA tournament game live in 2011, that marked another major advancement for the tournament. Early-round games were televised regionally in the past.
“It’s a partnership that’s unique in the world of sports TV and, really, in the world of sports business,” McManus said. “To combine production teams, sales teams, on-air talent, it’s really never been packaged before like this between two major corporations. Without a doubt, it’s groundbreaking.”
Bigger is better
Nothing is more controversial around the NCAA tournament than the topic of bracket expansion. “It’s an evergreen issue and it comes up with every basketball committee,” said Tom Jernstedt, the former NCAA executive vice president.
The turning point that most everyone references was 1985, when the bracket grew to 64 teams. The tournament’s
Greg Shaheen, then the NCAA’s senior vice president, was charged with negotiating the NCAA’s next TV deal. Among the proposals he floated to potential network partners was a 96-team bracket. The NCAA tournament at the time had 65 teams, plus 32 more that played in the NCAA-owned NIT, for a total of 97. It only made sense, Shaheen reasoned, to explore what a 96-team bracket would look like and how much revenue it might fetch.
That led to a bitter showdown between Shaheen and Washington Post columnist and author John Feinstein in the news conference at the 2010 Final Four. Shaheen said, if he had it to do over again, he would have done a better job explaining the 96-team bracket versus the 65-team bracket.
“The tournament is going to expand,” Feinstein concluded in The Washington Post. Well, he was right. It went to 68 teams.
What others are saying
“I remember when the ratings came in from NBC — a 24.1, a 38 share. We were all thrilled to death. The tournament had hit new highs after the 1979 final between Michigan State and Indiana State — Magic vs. Bird. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, the game has really exploded now.’ There’s no question Bird and Magic were the two principles who drove the great story lines, the drama. They made it all very special. You had the big school against small school. Big conference against smaller conference. You also happened to have a great white player and a great black player. There was marvelous intrigue all around it. That helped make the tournament what it is today.”
— Tom Jernstedt, the NCAA’s longtime executive vice president who oversaw the tournament from 1973 to 2010
“During the 1986 NCAA TV negotiation, CBS faced competition from two networks for the last time until 1999. Peter Lund led the CBS team. We were trying for our third exclusive three-year deal (remember them?). NBC and ABC wanted in badly and would have taken any split possible. CBS wanted exclusivity … and bid $55 million per year, period. We had to submit a sealed envelope bid in the Kansas City hotel on the Saturday night before the Sunday decision. Lund said, ‘Keep the envelope open.’ He reached in his pocket and put in 47 cents in coin (message: we’re tapped!). CBS was called first in the morning. At the end of a long hour, (NCAA Basketball Committee Chairman) Dick Schultz walked to Lund’s end of the table with a closed hand and said, ‘… we agree a deal has to be good for both sides, Peter. Here’s your 47 cents back. You’ve got a deal!’ ”
— Former CBS executive and media consultant Len DeLuca
“My favorite memory came from my first NCAA tournament in 1975 in San Diego. In a classic semifinal, John Wooden
|Coach Wooden goes out in style in 1975.
— Jim Host, founder of Host Communications, who will be attending his 39th consecutive final four this year
“In 1974, I attended my first Final Four in Greensboro as a representative of CBS Sports, as we sought to make a move into college sports. I watched the famous semifinal game in which North Carolina State upset UCLA, which ended the Bruins’ unprecedented national championship streak. Some 40 minutes after the game ended, I was walking along the top level of the coliseum when I heard voices coming from the floor. Looking down, I realized that the full assemblage of UCLA fans had gathered near the floor exit to the locker room area. Moments later, Bill Walton and the other seniors led the UCLA team back out onto the floor in their street clothes. The pep band broke into ‘Thanks for the Memories,’ and their fans, many in tears, all sang the song in full-throated agreement. In a lifetime around sports, I’ve never seen a more unique and affecting private moment.”
— Kevin O’Malley, a veteran of 40 years in sports television, as an executive in programming and production for CBS and Turner Sports, and as an industry consultant
“When I played in the tournament for Notre Dame in 1989, we had quite a rough matchup against Georgetown, complete with a healthy amount of trash talking. I recall both Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning swatting my shot on more than a couple of occasions in a frustrating defeat. Fast forward 20 years to a Gatorade management event in Chicago to kick off the relaunch of the brand under the ‘G’ architecture. I’m director of sports marketing and I’m overseeing our athlete endorsers. Mourning, a former winner of Gatorade’s High School Athlete of the Year, participated in the relaunch. As I’m making a flattering introduction, I tried to make a personal connection with Mourning by saying, ‘Alonzo and I battled fiercely to make it in to the prestigious Elite 8 field.’ A puzzled look came over Alonzo’s face and he said, ‘I don’t ever recall playing against you. Where did you play?’ The audience thought it was pretty funny.”
— Scott Paddock, president, Chicagoland Speedway, and former Irish player
|Arizona celebrates its 1997 national championship.
— Sean McManus, president, CBS Sports
“I had started as a grad school intern at the Spectrum a couple of weeks before the 1981 Final Four .... To say I was wide-eyed would be an all-time understatement. As I arrived at the Spectrum that Monday afternoon prior to the championship game, the building was abuzz because President Reagan had just been shot. It was not long after the shooting that leaders from the NCAA (Wayne Duke, Dave Gavitt, Dave Cawood and others) gathered with the leadership of the Spectrum (Aaron Siegel was the president, Larry Rubin head of PR, and others). I was the intern in the room, getting the coffee and making copies. … I remember how calm the leadership teams from both sides were as they discussed all the possible scenarios. What happens if President Reagan is in a life-threatening position? Would they cancel or delay the game? What happens if the president were to die? They ran through all scenarios, but thankfully we found out that the president would be OK. It was an incredible day and a Final Four I will never forget.”
— Mike Boykin, executive vice president, GMR Marketing
“I had the honor of helping manage [the tournament] for 16 years, and loved every minute. In a 1991 regional semifinal
|President Clinton, Chelsea and Hillary cheer on the Razorbacks in 1994.
— Bill Hancock, BCS executive director and former NCAA tournament director from 1989-2002
“When I was on the selection committee, I was the athletic director at Notre Dame, which meant that I basically represented the independents. Back before there was a TV show for people to watch and find out if they made it or not, we had to call coaches to let them know. Ray Meyer, the coach at DePaul, was one of the nicest guys in the world and there was one year DePaul didn’t make the tournament. It was awful. I thought he was going to cry. I remember leaving the selection committee meetings thinking, ‘I don’t ever want to do this again.’ It was really hard.”
— Gene Corrigan, former Notre Dame AD and former commissioner of the ACC
|Fiskars scissors have been cutting down the nets since the 2009 Final Four.
— Peter Davis, senior director at BDA, and formerly director of corporate alliances at the NCAA
“I’m a little nervous. I have no idea what March is going to be like for me. The tournament has been the platform on which my dreams have come true. I never thought that in a thousand lifetimes I’d be able to work on something I loved so much. I’ve told the story several times of going to the 1980 Final Four in Indianapolis when I was 12 with my dad and telling him, ‘I’m going to run the tournament one day.’ The tournament has always been that connection with my dad.”
— Greg Shaheen, former NCAA senior vice president
“The experience of attending the 1983 Final Four went from going to Albuquerque to cheer on my alma mater [Houston] to solidifying my aspirations of becoming a broadcaster who desperately wanted to work for CBS Sports one day. Prior to the championship game, I found a seat right next to the CBS Sports set constructed for Brent Musburger. From there, I squeezed my way right up against the set. I could have actually leaned over and shined Brent’s shoes. And I probably would have if he asked. I was so in awe of him. And I had a front-row seat to watch and witness their every move.”
— Jim Nantz joined CBS Sports in 1985. This year will be his 28th year covering the NCAA championship and Final Four.
“When I started working for the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 2004, one of my goals was to celebrate
|Colony Sportswear designed the sport coats worn by members of the exclusive Final Four Coaches Club.|
— Rick Jones, founder of Fishbait Marketing, which represents the National Association of Basketball Coaches
“To me, March Madness has always been about undiscovered stars having their chance to seize the moment, grab the spotlight and become household names — remember James Forrest, Bryce Drew and countless others. My favorite, though, is Jacob Tucker of Illinois College [Jacksonville, Ill.], whose dunking prowess was discovered on YouTube and won a fan vote to compete in the 2011 State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championship. At 5-10, he not only won the dunk contest in front of a national television audience, but was then signed by the Harlem Globetrotters and even appeared on the “Today” show.
— Todd Fischer, manager of marketing communications, State Farm Insurance
“With Lorenzo Charles’ last-second basket, N.C. State won the 1983 NCAA title and to celebrate, I sent a bottle of champagne to the hotel room of Willis Casey, State’s athletic director at the time. The bell hop returned, saying he was unable to deliver the bottle. Just an hour or so after the game had ended, Willis was already in bed asleep.”
— Ken Haines, CEO, Raycom Sports
|John Mellencamp dodged storms to play at “My Coke Fest.”
— Vince Thompson, president and CEO of Melt, an Atlanta event and marketing agency
“Even as a former Florida player, nobody expected Billy Donovan and the Gators to win the 2006 championship. Many of us couldn’t fathom a football school like UF capturing a basketball title. And then to do it again in 2007 with the same starting lineup, beating Ohio State, well, it sparked an incredible amount of pride from Gator Nation. Every year at the start of the basketball season, I write Coach Donovan to wish him luck and thank him for what he has done for the program and the university. I played for the Gators from 1975-79 and had two pretty good seasons and two not so good. But now when I tell someone I played basketball for Florida, there is instant respect.”
— Ric Clarson, senior vice president, PGA Tour
“I have spent 25 years trying to forget my trip to the Final Four. [A semifinal loss to Oklahoma in 1988] was the worst game of my college career. It’s a game that still gnaws at me, and always will. You never forget those moments of regret. It was a phenomenal experience to get there, and a miserable experience to fail.”
— Turner analyst and former Arizona guard Steve Kerr, who went 2-for-13 in shooting against Oklahoma
“It was the greatest 28-hour stretch in NCAA tournament history, with a dizzying swirl of buzzer-beaters, upsets and unlikely heroes that made 2005 regional final weekend stand out. It started with West Virginia taking a 19-point lead over Louisville. All I could think of was ratings shortfall and client make-goods. Louisville came back and won in overtime. Next, Illinois came back from 15 down to beat Arizona in another OT. My professional focus immediately turned to bonus commercials and happy clients. Two more great games the next day, including Michigan State’s double OT win over Kentucky, made me marvel at what I get to do for a living.”
— Chris Simko is working his 19th NCAA tournament as CBS’s chief of NCAA ad sales and corporate marketing
“Selection Sunday nights doing the tournament TV schedule was always an intense time. In the ‘old’ days, the bracket was faxed (the print was so small you could barely read it) and you were always afraid you would misread a name with such small print. ... The wait that night for NCAA approval of the overall TV schedule was often agonizing. There was a lot of cold pizza in the room. And doing regionalization maps ... by hand prior to the introduction of computerized maps was painstaking. You always worried that the lines you drew might unintentionally exclude a market you wanted in a particular region. ... The intensity of the Final Four in person at courtside is also as good as it gets. My son Brett, then 13, was asked by the NCAA to be a ball boy in 2001. His favorite team, Duke, was in the Final Four and he had a courtside seat. I could see him quietly rooting, which I had to ask him not to do. He complied, but I could see it was a struggle. He eventually attended Duke and became a Cameron Crazy.”
— Mike Aresco, Big East commissioner and longtime CBS Sports executive
“The Final Four is like a family reunion every year. It’s a collection of coaches and administrators you don’t get to see much the rest of the year, so it’s the centerpiece of the athletic year, and that interaction is critical for our business. When we were in Indianapolis, we had a dinner at St. Elmo’s in a private upstairs room. This was our big celebration at the Final Four. We were smoking cigars and drinking red wine until 4 in the morning, while we looked out over Illinois Ave., at one of the most iconic restaurants, and personally, my favorite restaurant.”
— Greg Brown, CEO, Learfield Sports
|Oregon’s championship winning team from the first tournament in 1939.
■ The first national collegiate men’s basketball tournament is held. For the first 12 years, district playoffs often were held with the winner entering an eight-team field for the championship. Oregon defeats Ohio State 46-33 to win the first championship, with the game played in Patten Gymnasium in Evanston, Ill.
■ The National Association of Basketball Coaches holds its annual convention at the site of the national finals for the first time. It has been held there ever since.
■ The championship game is televised locally for the first time in New York City by CBS-TV as Oklahoma State defeats North Carolina 43-40. The initial viewing audience is estimated to be 500,000.
■ This is the first time four teams advance to the final site. With only East and West regionals, the two regional champions play for the national title while the regional runner-ups play for third place.
■ The field expands to 16 teams, with 10 conference champions qualifying automatically for the first time. Those 10 conferences: Big Seven, Big Ten, Border, Eastern (Ivy), Missouri Valley, Pacific Coast, Skyline, Southeastern, Southern and Southwest.
■ Tournament games are televised regionally for the first time.
■ The number of regional sites changes from two to four, with the four winners advancing to the finals.
■ The bracket expands from 16 teams to 22 teams and fluctuates between 22 and 25 teams until 1974.
■ The championship game is televised nationally for the first time as La Salle defeats Bradley, 94-76, in Kansas City.
■ The largest media group to that point in the tournament’s history assembles for the finals in Kansas City. Coverage includes an 11-station television network, 64 newspaper writers and live radio broadcasts on 73 stations in 11 states.
■ A contract to run through 1968 is signed with “Sports Network” for the championship game to be televised nationally. Television rights total $140,000.
■ Net income for the entire tournament exceeds $500,000 for the first time.
■ A television-blackout provision requiring a 48-hour advance sellout is adopted.
■ NBC is selected to televise the championship as television rights total $547,500, exceeding $500,000 for the first time. The tournament’s net income of $1,032,915 is the first time above the million-dollar mark.
■ NBC records the largest audience ever for a basketball network telecast during the semifinals as 9.3 million households view the game.
■ Television rights total $1,165,755, exceeding $1 million for the first time. The championship game on NBC receives a rating of 20.5 and is seen by 13.6 million television households reaching a total audience of 39 million people. For the first time, the championship game is televised in prime time.
■ TVS, with the approval of NBC, agrees to televise those games not carried by NBC for a two-year period at the rights fee of $65,000 per year.
■ A 32-team bracket is adopted. For the first time, teams other than the conference champions could be chosen at-large.
■ The term “Final Four” first appears in an NCAA publication, the 1975 Official Collegiate Basketball Guide. In a section written by Ed Chay of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Chay writes, “Outspoken Al McGuire of Marquette, whose team was one of the final four in Greensboro, was among several coaches who said it was good for college basketball that UCLA was finally beaten.”
■ Host Communications of Lexington, Ky., wins the rights to the NCAA Radio Network.
■ NBC televises 23 hours and 18 minutes of tournament programming.
■ A seeding process is used for the first time for individual teams.
■ Complimentary tickets for all NCAA championships are eliminated.
■ The bracket is expanded to 40 teams.
■ NBC receives a record one-game rating with a 24.1 in Michigan State’s national championship victory over Indiana State. The 38 share also sets a record.
■ The bracket expands to 48 teams.
■ Principles for the seeding and placement of teams is implemented to develop a balanced tournament bracket.
■ Virginia defeats LSU in the last third-place game conducted at the Final Four.
■ The NCAA registers a trademark for the term “Final Four.”
■ The NCAA and CBS begin a three-year television agreement for the 1982-84 tournaments.
■ The “selection show” is shown on live national television for the first time.
■ A new opening round requires the representatives of eight automatic qualifying conferences to compete for four positions in the 52-team tournament bracket.
■ North Carolina State’s national championship victory over Houston attracts a then-record 18.6 million households to the CBS telecast. The game has a 22.3 rating and a 32 share.
■ A national semifinal record also is set in Houston’s victory over Louisville. The game has a 17.8 rating and 33 share, and is viewed by 14.8 million households on CBS.
■ The NCAA requires that the Final Four competition venue must have a minimum of 17,000 seats.
■ One additional opening round game is established, requiring 10 automatic qualifying conferences to compete for five positions in the 53-team bracket.
■ The tournament bracket is expanded to include 64 teams, which eliminates all first-round byes.
■ CBS has a record 19.8 million homes view Villanova’s national championship victory over Georgetown. The game attracts a 23.2 rating and a 33 share.
■ The East Regional championship game (Georgetown defeats Georgia Tech) sets television records for that level of tournament competition with a 12.6 rating, a 32 share and 10.7 million homes tuned to CBS.
■ The NCAA Radio Network attracts 21 million listeners for the Villanova-Georgetown game.
■ CBS begins a second, three-year contract that includes the 1985-87 tournaments.
■ CBS televises 40 hours, 51 minutes of tournament programming.
■ The NCAA Radio network includes a then-record 426 stations, including 92 of the top 100 markets.
■ For this year’s event in Dallas, the NCAA conducts its first random, computerized drawing for the general public’s allotment of Final Four tickets.
■ CBS begins a third, three-year contract. All regional semifinal games are televised in prime time.
■ The NCAA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Coincidentally, the score in the Oklahoma-Kansas championship game is tied, 50-50, at halftime.
■ After determining that three of the next four Final Four host facilities should have a minimum capacity of 30,000, the committee selects Charlotte, Seattle, The Meadowlands and Indianapolis to host in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997.
■ The NCAA Executive Committee approves the “play-in” concept, which will be implemented the following year. Six conference representatives will play for three automatic-qualifying berths in the 64-team bracket.
■ CBS Sports begins a new seven-year contract for $1 billion, which includes live coverage of all sessions of the championship through 1997.
■ Duke University wins its second consecutive national championship, becoming the first team to successfully defend its title since UCLA in 1973.
■ The minimum seating capacity for first and second rounds and regionals is established at 12,000.
■ The NCAA’s basketball committee selects San Antonio; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Indianapolis; Minneapolis; and Atlanta to host the Final Four in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.
■ President Bill Clinton becomes the first sitting president to attend the tournament, when he is present at the Midwest Regional championship game in Dallas and the national semifinals and final in Charlotte.
■ The existing CBS Sports contract is replaced with a new agreement for $1.725 billion, extending for five years through the 2002 championship.
■ The NCAA creates the first online computer page for the Final Four.
■ The NCAA’s online computer page is expanded to include news from preliminary rounds.
■ The NCAA’s basketball committee continues selecting Final Four host facilities with a minimum seating capacity of 30,000 when it picks New Orleans, San Antonio, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Atlanta to host in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
■ The NCAA and CBS agree to a new 11-year agreement, commencing with the 2003 championship. The agreement, for a minimum of $6 billion, includes rights to television (over-the-air, cable, satellite, digital and home video), marketing, game programs, radio, Internet, fan festivals and licensing (excluding concessionaire agreements).
■ Since 31 conferences will be eligible for automatic qualification in 2001, the NCAA agrees to conduct an opening-round game pitting teams seeded No. 64 and 65.
■ The NCAA and the Illinois High School Association form the “March Madness Athletic Association” and apply for trademark registration for the term “March Madness.”
■ TNN telecasts the opening-round game.
■ The NCAA registers a trademark for the term “Big Dance.”
■ ESPN televises the opening-round game for the first time.
■ Westwood One assumes administration of the tournament’s radio rights.
■ The NCAA’s basketball committee sets the minimum Final Four seating capacity at 40,000 and picks San Antonio, Detroit, Indianapolis and Houston to host in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
■ CBS begins a two-year deal with CSTV.com for exclusive Internet video streaming rights for out-of-market game coverage for the first 58 games of the championship. March Madness on Demand is born, originally as a subscription model and then moving to a free product beginning in 2006.
■ Attendance at first round, second round and regional sites is a record 98.4 percent of the facilities’ capacity.
■ In response to traffic resulting in 19 million video streams and 5 million visits in 2006, CBS Sportsline doubles its bandwidth capacity for March Madness on Demand, which offers free live Internet streams of each game of the first three rounds of the championship.
■ The University of Florida becomes the seventh school to successfully defend its national championship as the Gators defeat Ohio State 84-75 in the title game.
■ The continuing growth in popularity for ancillary events is on display as Hoop City attracts more than 63,000 visitors over a four-day period, while the Big Dance attracts 167,000 people to the streets of San Antonio.
■ For the first time, the NABC College All-Star Game is held at the same venue as the Final Four. The game attracts 4,800 fans to the Alamodome.
■ CBSSports.com and March Madness on Demand launch a developer platform that allows more than 200 websites to carry live video of the championship online, including sites such as ESPN.com, Yahoo, SI.com, YouTube and Facebook. CBS allows users to watch all 63 games that it telecasts during the tournament for the first time, and sees the total number of unique visitors from first-round games through the regional championship games grow from 1.75 million to 4.33 million.
■ Record crowds attend the Final Four, with 72,456 fans attending the national semifinals and 72,922 fans in Ford Field
■ The record crowd includes students from the four participating institutions sitting courtside after having the opportunity to buy specially priced floor-level seating. More than 400 students from each school were able to buy seats located behind the basket for less than $7 a game. The courtside student seating element was one of the benefits from the Final Four’s new center-court seating configuration, called “in the round.”
■ The Big East Conference becomes the first league to have three teams seeded No. 1 (Louisville, Pittsburgh and Connecticut) and the first to send five teams to the Sweet 16, with Villanova and Syracuse also advancing to the regional round.
■ The NCAA exercises a clause in its contract with CBS, signed in 1999, to opt out of the deal in order to sign a new 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting. The television, Internet and wireless rights agreement also calls for CBS and Turner to collaborate on the NCAA’s corporate marketing program. All tournament games will be shown live across the country (on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV), which is a first in the championship’s history. The agreement also involves expanding the tournament to 68 teams.
■ A revamped Bracket Town (formerly known as Hoop City) is a five-day fan fest that attracts nearly 53,000 people. The Bracket Town Competition Zones feature 12 basketball courts for exhibitions, training and fan games, including State Farm’s fan 3-Point and Skills Challenge Courts, the Coca-Cola fan Slam Dunk court, and the Powerade 3v3 Tournament. Bracket Town also debuts its new 2,500 seat Center Court Arena.
■ A total of 142,228 fans attend the two Final Four sessions. The attendance figures from the national semifinals, the national championship game and the combined attendance number are the second highest in Final Four history.
■ The single-session attendance record is set on semifinal Saturday, as 75,421 fans pack Reliant Stadium. Another 70,376 fans attend the championship game, bringing the total Final Four attendance to 145,797.
■ For the first time, March Madness on Demand is available free to iPad and iPhone users in addition to online via NCAA.com. Despite the increased availability of games on TV, total visits to MMOD platforms, including broadband and mobile, rise 63 percent. In addition, over 13.7 million total hours of streaming video is consumed through the MMOD broadband application and iPad and iPhone apps.
■ A total of 1,566 media members are credentialed for the Final Four, the most ever.
Source: NCAA, SportsBusiness Journal research
Capturing the Madness
When March Madness on Demand (now March Madness Live) launched on CSTV.com in 2005, CBS was offering only
“In a lot of ways, MMOD foreshadowed the new partnership [between CBS and Turner] because it was the first time that all of the games were available to the viewer,” said Jason Kint, general manager of CBSSports.com. “Anybody living in the digital world sees it as one of the biggest trendsetters in sports and broadcasting. When we streamed the national championship, open and free to everyone, that was the first time, and you still don’t see a lot of major events offered like that.”
March Madness Live has evolved into a product for tablets and phones. “That’s part of the innovation story,” Kint said. “It keeps evolving every year.”
Final Four entertainment
Coca-Cola became the first NCAA corporate champion in 2002 and immediately established a major initiative: Own the off day. In other words, Coke wanted to own the Sunday between the semifinals and finals.
|Jimmy Buffett plays the Big Dance.
In recent years, acts like Jimmy Buffet, Kings of Leon and Kenny Chesney have performed, and March Madness Live has carried some of the concerts.
“It’s rounded out and really become something that enhances the whole fan experience now,” said Vince Thompson, whose Atlanta-based agency, Melt, has produced each of the Final Four concerts for Coke. “The objective was to put the Final Four on the same level with the Super Bowl, from an entertainment standpoint, and we’ve done that. Coke had the vision and they drove it.”
Moving to prime time
The semifinals and finals moved to the current Saturday-Monday structure in 1973 as NBC, the broadcaster at the time, sought to expand the audience. The championship game, played that year at the Checkerdome in St. Louis, generated a 20.5 rating, and the 13.6 million households were the most ever to watch a college basketball telecast, validating the move to prime time.
“That was a move driven by television, but the basketball committee went along with it because they thought it would provide more people with the opportunity to see the game,” said Tom Jernstedt, the longtime director of the tournament who, coincidentally, started working for the NCAA in 1973. “Putting the game in prime time was definitely a driver for growth of the tournament. There was some thinking, as I recall, that ‘Monday Night Football’ was one of the motivators for the change.”
In the round
More than 70,000 fans have witnessed the championship game each year since the NCAA adopted the “in the round” format in 2009, which put the court in the center of the dome rather than at one end.
|The 2009 Final Four in Detroit.
“It’s like an arena on steroids,” said Greg Shaheen, the former NCAA senior vice president who oversaw the tournament in the 2000s and orchestrated the Final Four’s move to the in the round model. “The big piece of the move was that we were at the point where we needed to be able to use the whole building — the suites, all of the amenities.”
The NCAA first saw the center-court model in 2003 at “The BasketBowl,” a game between Michigan State and Kentucky. At the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis, with the court pushed to the edge of one side of the Edward Jones Dome, masses of fans were stuck in concourses that were too narrow to handle so many people. That was the ultimate impetus to move toward a center court, and the concept was finally put into place for the 2009 Final Four in Detroit.
When CBS took over broadcast rights of the tournament in 1982, one of the primary goals was to bring “the brackets to life,” said Kevin O’Malley, then the senior vice president and executive producer at CBS. One of the ideas was to capture the drama in the tournament selections with a 30-minute “Selection Sunday” show.
The first “Selection Sunday” show was nearly a disaster, O’Malley remembered. The NCAA was late delivering the brackets, which had to be put on the big boards by hand. Each team was labeled on a placard and inserted into a slot on the big board. As CBS unveiled the East Regional, young production assistants were crawling along the floor like soldiers under barbed wire with the team placards for the other regionals.
Said O’Malley: “We were literally sliding teams into place just minutes before the cameras moved to the next bracket.”
One of the reasons CBS won the NCAA’s broadcast contract in 1982 was because of its idea to create a studio show and put Brent Musburger at the controls. CBS’s “NFL Today” was the standard for studio shows at the time.
As CBS’s coverage of the tournament evolved through the 1980s, start times for first- and second-round games were staggered so that as one game ended, the network could whip viewers over to the final minutes of another game.
“We made Brent the traffic cop in the studio,” O’Malley said. “I don’t know whether we would have had the confidence to do that without Brent. He had this amazing ability to keep track of all of the games in his head.”
‘The Road’ started here
Once CBS had won the rights to the tournament, the sales team wondered if there was a theme they could use when selling the event. O’Malley, who was in Chicago for meetings, looked out his hotel window as he talked by phone with CBS executives. As he thought about the brackets — and looked down at Michigan Avenue — O’Malley said, “Well, the brackets are like a road, a road to the Final Four.” So that first year of CBS’s deal in 1982, they themed it the “Road to New Orleans.”
O’Malley said, “I go to the Final Four every year and when you get to the airport terminal, there’s always a sign that says, ‘The Road Ends Here.’ Most people have no idea where it came from.”
‘One Shining Moment’
The iconic song that plays at the conclusion of CBS’s coverage was intended to be the wrap-up song for the Super Bowl in 1987. But when the football game ran long and CBS needed to cut away to other programming, the song never played.
Producers decided to reprogram it for the end of the basketball championship.
“It’s now considered the anthem for the tournament,” said Harold Bryant, CBS’s executive producer for the tournament. “Coaches call us all the time seeking last year’s version to show as motivation for their team.”
For as long as the NCAA has had a corporate sponsorship program, only two brands have been visible at courtside during the tournament — the NCAA and whichever brand Coca-Cola has promoted. At one time it was Dasani water, and recently it’s been Powerade, which places its red and black coolers next to the benches.
Mark Lewis, the NCAA’s executive vice president for championships and alliances who oversees the partner program for the NCAA, said it’s not new inventory that’s being sold. Rather, “it’s just a way for us to say thank you to our sponsors,” Lewis said.
The sponsor recognition is part of an overhaul in the way games are presented. Tournament games also will feature replays, something that’s been largely absent from previous tournaments.
“We’re trying to do a better job of replicating what you would typically see at a game on campus,” Lewis said.
The future of domes
The NCAA has created a bit of a stir by saying it will discuss the possibility of taking the Final Four back to traditional arenas, rather than the domes that have been its home since 1997.
Mark Lewis, the NCAA’s executive vice president for championships and alliances, said he wants to at least broach the topic with members of the basketball committee, who would ultimately have to make the decision. Keeping the Final Four exclusively in a dome means that certain markets, such as those in the Pacific Northwest, just aren’t accessible anymore.
“As far as future Final Four sites, do we want to stay in a dome exclusively?” Lewis said. “I don’t know. That’s a conversation we need to have.”
Sitting up close
Close to 250 courtside seats will be made available to fans at this year’s Final Four, as part of a new seating model the NCAA is using in the Georgia Dome.
One of the downsides of the NCAA’s “in the round” seating model, which puts the court in the middle of the dome, is
|Crews install seating at the Georgia Dome.
“Creating a 20,000-person environment in a place with 70,000 seats is not easy,” Robbie Robertson, Colonnade’s president and CEO, said of the Final Four. “But I think the fans in the Georgia Dome will see that the atmosphere is very good.”
Mark Lewis, the NCAA’s executive vice president for championships and alliances, led the charge to eliminate what he called “the moat,” that area of benches and press seating that created the feeling of a moat around the court.
Lewis said most of those up-close seats will go to the families of the student athletes, meaning most of those premium tickets will be complimentary to the players.
Turner waits its turn
Unless CBS and Turner change their contract, CBS is scheduled to televise the Final Four through 2015, and then the two will alternate, with Turner taking the even years beginning in 2016.
When that time comes, Turner will have to decide if its broadcast will mimic CBS’s, or if it will have a completely different twist. For example, will Turner continue using “One Shining Moment” at the conclusion of the broadcast?
“I don’t think we’ll be looking for major changes,” said Turner Sports President David Levy. “But there will be something of a signature in there. We won’t be wearing CBS jackets.”
March Madness on any screen
Matt Hong, Turner’s senior vice president of sports and operations, has a new favorite word — personalization. It will be integral to the Turner-run March Madness Live this year and going forward.
“The way one fan consumes March Madness digitally and the way another consumes it is personalized by their affinities,” Hong said. “The way fans affiliate with one team versus another is different.”
Hong indicated that March Madness Live users will have personalization options, not unlike what’s available to viewers of Bleacher Report, the new Turner acquisition that enables users to customize their online experience based on their favorite teams. March Madness Live this year will be available to users on any screen — computer, mobile or tablet.
“Ubiquity is frankly required in this day and age,” Hong said.
In the future, Turner will consider additional ways for fans to customize their experience.
“We’ve had some things, like a 360-degree camera that users could control at the PGA Championship,” Hong said. “We’re not doing that this year, but that could be something for down the road.”