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March Madness Is the New Super Bowl

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- 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.

Last year, the NCAA men's tournament's Final Four matchups and Final brought in $198.5 million in advertising revenue for broadcast partners 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, CBS and NBC paid to air NFL games, the playoffs and rotating Super Bowls through 2022.

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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 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, CBS and Turner generated $1.15 billion in ad revenue from NCAA sponsors such as General Motors, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Capital One, Nissan and Lowes. Other heavy hitters such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and SAB Miller, which can't partner with the NCAA because of its alcohol policy, contributed nearly $60 million on their own. That $1.15 billion total is more than the $1.1 million spent on the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl combined in 2013, which makes it the second-straight year that March Madness ad money surpassed football's playoff total. That 2013 tournament take also surpasses the National Basketball Association playoffs and finals ($929 million) and Major League Baseball Playoffs and World Series ($592 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 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 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.

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