Advertisers Have High Hoops for March Madness - eMarketer
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Advertisers Have High Hoops for March Madness

Advertisers shoot to reach basketball fans beyond the TV

March 17, 2015

This year’s NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) men’s Division 1 basketball tournament—a three-week event also known as March Madness—is here. And while fans are placing their bets and filling out brackets, advertisers are likely putting big money down, too.

US NCAA Men's Division 1 Basketball Championship Ad Spending* and Number of Unique Advertisers, 2005-2014

According to data released earlier this month by Kantar Media, US TV ad spending on the tournament in 2014 passed $1.13 billion, with the average 30-second spot costing nearly $1.5 million. This put the NCAA men’s basketball franchise second in terms of postseason TV ad spending last year, trailing only the NFL (National Football League), which saw over $1.23 billion in postseason TV ads.

However, it must be noted that spending levels on March Madness TV ads, as well as the number of unique advertisers, have leveled out over the past few years. After impressive growth in 2011—when all games started being aired nationally—and 2012, gains fell to 2.0% in 2013 and 1.5% in 2014. This is likely due to the fact that advertisers are funneling more of their tournament dollars to digital channels and is in line with eMarketer’s forecast for TV ad spending growth, which we estimate has plateaued and expect to lose share of paid media ad spending to digital through 2018, the end of our forecast period.

Social media is one digital channel where advertisers can reach March Madness followers. According to August 2014 research by Catalyst, 72% of US sports fans engaged with college basketball-related content on Facebook, and Twitter and Google+ were each used by around four in 10. While Snapchat wasn’t included in the study, the social network hopes to get its feet wet this year with branded sponsorships on its “Our Story” feature during the Final Four round of the championship.

Video platforms provide followers with another channel to watch their favorite content, and Catalyst found that more than half (54%) of sports fans engaged with college basketball-related content on YouTube. The site has taken advantage of this: It’s launched an official March Madness channel, in partnership with Turner Sports, which will feature game highlights posted while they take place.

Of course, as consumers hop from screen to screen throughout the day, cross-channel campaigns provide advertisers with the best opportunity to reach them, and at least one March Madness advertiser plans to tie everything together. Buffalo Wild Wings is partnering with the NCAA to run a multiplatform March Madness campaign across TV, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. And in its fifth year as an auto partner of NCAA and March Madness, Buick will look beyond broadcast, expanding its reach with viral trick-shot videos.

There’s no doubt that March Madness advertisers will invest in TV campaigns to reach those viewing games via the tube, but consumers can expect to see plenty of promotions elsewhere as sponsors stretch their dollars to new channels.

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