by. Michael Merget

For some, this week marks one of the most exciting sports weeks of the year, for others it’s a chance to get into an office or friend group and fill out brackets. It’s the return of the NCAA basketball tournament! This year marks the 84th installment of March Madness where 68 teams will battle it out until one team is left standing.  The tournament has been played every year since 1939, with the exception of 2020 when everything was shut down due to COVID19.  Starting Thursday and Friday, basketball will be played from 12 noon to 12 midnight. It’s hard to put into words the excitement that the first weekend of the NCAA tournament brings. Everyone will be watching closely waiting for the surefire upset that makes or breaks their bracket! The tournament offers a great sense of community whether or not you are a fan of college basketball.

But how does it relate to advertising?

TV rights for the games earned the NCAA a whopping $850 million last year, and universities who make the tournament and win games can get millions in prize money. Everyone knows about the ridiculous costs to advertise during the Super Bowl, with advertisers paying $7 million for a 30 second ad.  The NCAA tournament gives advertisers exposure to different audiences over a three week period, allowing ads to receive repetition.  Many advertisers view March Madness as a major alternative and less costly way to reach a large number of viewers.  Per Adweek: Warner Brothers and CBS are reporting ahead of “Selection Sunday”, which was held the Sunday before the beginning of the NCAA tournament, advertising inventory is virtually sold out- surpassing the 1 billion mark, this is higher than the record breaking sales in 2022. The popularity of women’s sports is on the rise and ESPN is reporting that its ad inventory for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament is sold out. Big ad spenders such as Apple, Lowe’s, Ford and Coke are sure to be in the mix and rates for the championship game are reported at over $2 million dollars for a 30 second unit.  All of these brands spent well over $10 million during last year’s NCAA tournament. AT&T and Coca Cola are the longest tenured sponsors, dating back to 2001 and 2002 respectfully.

Social platforms get into the fun as well! During the first round of the 2022 tournament, online engagement soared to 2.3 million, with impression levels approaching 5 billion. Viewers love a good upset and if you recall last year, Saint Peter’s was the Cinderella story of the tournament, making it all the way to the Elite 8 round. They had a major upset in the first round, knocking out Kentucky. Many brands received great exposure for simply just using hashtags. Wendy’s created a Twitter campaign for their annual Pick’em contest.  They used the hashtag to remind their community to share their team picks so they can win prizes. From March 14-21, #ForTheWendys received roughly 1,000 engagements—including 934 likes—and 4.35 million potential impressions per Sprout social.

As more and more people cut the cord, there are still ways to view the games. Streaming services, including YouTubeTV, Hulu and Sling TV, will all have access to the tournament games. Fans can also stream games via March Madness Live, which offers three hours of viewing before a login is required. 

A couple of fun facts on the tournament itself, for the first time since 1977, NONE of the Philadelphia city six schools made the tournament.  So that means no Villanova, Temple, Saint Joseph’s, LaSalle, Penn or Drexel, which is a bummer if you like to root for a local school. The “most local” school in this field is Penn State.  Kansas is the reigning champ but Alabama is the overall number one seed, with Purdue and Houston rounding off the other top seeds.  When filling out a bracket, pick upsets! They are the best way to accumulate points if you get them correct. 

However you view the games this week, enjoy them! It’s one of the best times of the year!