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A Method to This Madness

Mar 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Whether or not you are into college sports, March Madness really is an appropriate name for the annual NCAA basketball championships-broadcast as always on CBS.
Starting next week, the sprawling 64-team tournament will consume half the population for three weeks, leaving the other half bewildered.
That said, in many ways the tournament is a media planner’s dream. Sure, the buyers will be kept happy by televised sports ratings that are third only to the Super Bowl and baseball’s World Series (and remember, the Madness ensues for three weeks), but it’s the unique and elusive demographic the tournament attracts that is the thing.
“It gets great demos: upscale and older and professional-managerial,” said Gary Barsky, group media director at Lowe, who has his client UPS planned into the tournament. “It’s a highly educated audience. And there’s plenty of alumnae.”
“There is something inherently powerful about the youthfulness and the noncommercialization of the sports stars and the event itself,” said Paul Woolmington, CEO of the Media Kitchen. “It’s the most passionate of sporting events, and the challenge for marketers is to tap into that passion. With some of the other major sporting events the audiences are interchangeable. Not so here. Plus, there’s no inevitability that the same team will win every year. There’s no sense of anticlimax for the NCAA.”
Luckily for the industry’s planners, there is actually no direct correlation between ratings figures and “big” teams.
Last year, for example, CBS’s ratings were consistent throughout the 2002 tournament, though arguably smaller teams progressed further than in the year before. Until the Final Four last year, the network had a Nielsen average of 6.3 with a 13 share, up about 11 percent from 5.7/12 in 2001.
Chasing the demographic is further complicated by the fact that the individual games- at least in the early rounds-are available only in certain areas of the country.
CBS pays the NCAA about $6 billion over an 11-year period for rights to the men’s tournament plus other events and marketing opportunities, but it doesn’t get to call the tune on the initial schedule. However, once the selection committee makes its choices, the network does have the right to switch groups of two-moving the games from day to night or vice versa-and changing the order of games in each group of two. The idea is to avoid regional clashes.
“It generates lots of excitement. It’s exciting, and the fans are passionate. Plus, they are one of the most affluent, educated audiences of the year,” Mr. Brasky said.