The Final Four already makes ad revenue in three games what baseball's World Series couldn't 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 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 90 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, State Farm Insurance and Buffalo Wild Wings 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, 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.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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