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TheStreet Open House

How March Madness Changed the Way We Watch Sports

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Airing every game of a championship tournament is not only the wisest decision a sports broadcaster can make, but the most lucrative. March Madness taught us that.

More than four years after CBS and Turner signed a blockbuster television and Internet rights deal to broadcast the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, that event now brings in the most ad revenue and total viewership of any sports postseason in the U.S. It's also spawned a bunch of TV Anywhere look-a-likes trying to cash in on the March Madness blueprint.

Back in 2010, the NCAA reached a 14-year, $10.8 billion television agreement with CBS and Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting to show every game live on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV. There were some quips about where to find TruTV, but every game has been broadcast since. As of 2012, the broadcast partners' March Madness Live app streamed every game of the tournament over mobile devices. Advertising for the tournament alone brought in $6 billion for its network partners within the past decade, but that's the least of CBS and Turner's March Madness accomplishments.

When March Madness went mobile during the 2012 tournament, CBS and Turner generated little more than $1 billion in ad revenue from NCAA sponsors such as General Motors, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Capital One, Nissan and Lowes. Other heavy hitters including 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 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.

Last year, each game on the Big Dance's bracket averaged 10.7 million viewers. Combined, that's an 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.

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