March Madness is the new Super Bowl

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament brings in more ad money and draws more eyeballs than the NFL playoffs and championship game combined.

By TheStreet.com Staff Mar 13, 2014 1:43PM

Jerami Grant #3 of the Syracuse Orange dribbles to the basket against Okaro White #10 of the Florida State Seminoles at the Donald L. Tucker Center on March 9, 2014 in Tallahassee, Fla. © Don Juan Moore/Getty Images
By Jason NotteTheStreet


It's a near-sacrilege to mention the Super Bowl in the same breath as just about any other sports championships, but get ready for some outright blasphemy.


The Final Four is going to catch up with the Super Bowl in ad revenue, if not in outright viewership.


TheStreet.com logoLast year, the NCAA men's tournament's Final Four matchups and Final brought in $198.5 million in advertising revenue for broadcast partners CBS (CBS) and Turner Sports, according to Kantar Media. That's a March Madness record and a big part of the reason those broadcasters paid $10 billion for the rights to broadcast the tournament through 2024, which is a huge haul even compared with the $28 million Fox (FOX), CBS and Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC paid to air NFL games, the playoffs and rotating Super Bowls through 2022.


The NCAA's ad haul was still well shy of the $292 million last year's Super Bowl brought in for NBC -- with the gap in ad revenue between the Super Bowl and Final Four widening to $96.5 million from $50 million in 2009 -- but that single game is no longer the measuring stick. For the entire 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, CBS and Turner generated little more than $1 billion in ad revenue from NCAA sponsors such as General Motors (GM), AT&T (T), Coca-Cola (KO), Capital One (COF), Nissan (NSANY) and Lowes (LOW).


Other heavy hitters such as Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) and SAB Miller, which can't partner with the NCAA because of its alcohol policy, contributed nearly $60 million on their own. That $1 billion total is more than the $976.3 million spent on the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl combined in 2012 and absolutely dwarfs the National Basketball Association playoffs and finals ($536.9 million) and Major League Baseball Playoffs and World Series ($354.1 million) that same year.

Still, there's no way March Madness comes close to a Super Bowl audience. The peak viewership of 27.1 million who tuned in to CBS' broadcast of the 2013 NCAA championship game was just a small fraction of the 167 million who caught the 2014 Super Bowl on Fox.


But that's why the NCAA tournament plays all 68 games. Each game on last year's bracket averaged 10.7 million viewers. Combined, that's a combined audience of 727.6 million -- or at least that many opportunities to put a product in front of a viewer. The NFL Wild Card, divisional playoffs, conference championships and Super Bowl averaged little less than 50.1 million viewers per game. With only 11 games, though, that's only 551 million total, or about 176.6 million fewer chances for networks and sponsors to catch a viewer's attention.


It's a bit of a technicality and a reach, we know, but it's how March Madness ends up bringing in about $24 million more ad dollars than the entire NFL playoffs combined. Meanwhile, the Final Four's earning potential has grown so much in the past five years that the $198.5 million in ad revenue pulled in by last year's games is already greater than the $186.3 million the Super Bowl earned in 2008.


The Final Four already makes more ad revenue in three games than baseball's World Series could manage in four in 2012 ($153 million) or five in 2010 ($191.2 million). The NFL's broadcast partners can still command $4 million per Super Bowl ad, but the nearly $1.5 million that CBS fetches for the NCAA championship game is still better than what sponsors pay for ads during college football's championship ($1.14 million), baseball's All-Star Game ($550,000), the NBA Finals ($450,000) and the World Series ($450,000). Even the Oscars, which bring in a stunning $1.6 million per ad for Disney's (DIS) ABC, have never topped $85 million in ad revenue.


That's made the tournament a darling among sponsors, who see it as a low point of entry with high returns. While only 34 parent companies were able to sneak ads into the 2013 Super Bowl, roughly 85 different companies advertised during March Madness that year. Even that number is down from the 125 companies that kicked in for tournament ad time in pre-recession 2007.


It also helps that the NFL doesn't break its playoffs into four major market areas in the South, East, Midwest and West. That regional approach to the tournament give advertisers such as UPS (UPS), State Farm Insurance and Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) the ability to hit audiences in key NCAA markets and not blow a lot of money getting the word out to the entire country.


Also, putting an entire tournament into an extremely confined timeframe builds fan anticipation and a television following that the pros just can't manage during more than a month of playoffs. Those are 68 teams and 68 fan bases emotionally invested in the game during each round. Combine that with a college basketball viewing audience that among 18- to 35-year-olds who've either just graduated or are finishing up payments on student loans and you have a young, educated, ideal demographic for sponsors that doesn't diminish from year to year. It can survive a few years of blowout championship games and is willing to wait it out until a mid-major eventually wins the whole thing.


The Final Four itself still has a lot of ground to cover before it comes within a whiff of the Super Bowl's earning potential again, but March Madness' audience is already making it a bigger force than pro football. It may not have the big show-stopping finish, but on the aggregate it's the biggest game in town.


More from TheStreet

3Comments
Mar 13, 2014 3:19PM
avatar
March Madness Week One has always been a much bigger draw in Vegas than the Super Bowl.   It is the busiest week in Vegas...  
Mar 13, 2014 4:01PM
avatar
best tournament in sports.  Go Jayhawks!!!

screw the nfl.  they pay a sub-human dog torturer/killer to play for them.  haven't watched for almost a decade now.
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