The 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship tournament airing on CBS and Turner's TNT, TBS, and truTV is about 95% sold out of commercial inventory for the games that begin next week. The networks, whose sales teams are selling the tournament jointly, have gotten mid-single-digit price increases over last year, and 30-second spots in the championship game on April 2 have sold for as much as $1.5 million.
While networks would not discuss specific ad pricing, sources familiar with the sales said commercials in opening round games were selling at an average price of $90,000 per 30, while spots in the regional finals had sold for between $600,000 and $700,000.
"We are almost sold out," John Bogusz, executive VP, sports sales and marketing at CBS, said. "We've written a lot more dollar volume at this point than we did last year."
Jon Diament, executive VP, Turner Sports ad sales and marketing, added, "Last year we surpassed our goals and set records, and this year we set more aggressive sales goals and we have achieved those."
Kantar Media estimated that CBS/Turner took in $738 million in ad revenue for last year's tournament, a record. Bogusz and Diament would not talk specific dollar amounts, but acknowledged that they will surpass last year's record take with this year's total.
Digital ads for online streaming and mobile telecasts were sold separately from TV advertising. Digital is also virtually sold out, Diament said.
Two new major advertisers in the tournament telecasts this year, Allstate and Northwest Mutual, have both agreed to multi-year deals. They will also be official NCAA tournament telecast partners. They join returning ad partners Buick, Enterprise, Infinity, LG, Lowe's, Hershey's, Unilever, UPS and Kraft.
Official corporate championship level ad partners include AT&T, Coke and Capital One.
Bogusz said the auto ad category is "extremely healthy" and almost every major automaker will be advertising in this year's tournament telecasts. They include: Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Lexus, Mercedes, Honda, Infinity, Jaguar, Mazda and Volkswagen.
Kantar Media said GM spent $57 million on tournament TV advertising last year, with AT&T spending $36 million, Coke $26 million and Capital One $23 million.
In addition to auto, insurance and financial services, other top spending ad categories in the tournament include telecom, technology, restaurants and movies. Both Microsoft and Apple have made large commitments in the tournament this year, Bogusz said.
Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors share the beer category and are the only two beer advertisers, since the NCAA limits the amount of beer commercials that can run during the tournament telecasts.
Bogusz said the same commercial load will run for each advertiser on each of the networks' game telecasts. "If there are four games on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV during a weekend, each advertiser will have the same number of units in each network's telecasts," he said.
Diament added that every advertiser was sold packages and not individual spots in individual games. "There was no cherry-picking of games," he said. "That's better for the advertiser. They get better reach."
Bogusz said each advertiser's overall package comes with a ratings guarantee for the entire 67 games televised by the four networks during the tournament. "Based on previous years we came up with estimates and guaranteed the entire package," he said.
About 50% of the inventory was presold based on multi-year deals already in place, Bogusz said. But both he and Diament praised their sales staffs for selling close to the other 50%, mostly during the fourth-quarter of 2011, when many advertisers were cutting back and not yet allocating a lot of money for 2012.
Sales teams for CBS Sports and Turner Sports sold inventory for the tournament telecasts separately but cooperatively. "It was a collaborative effort but it worked out well," Bogusz said. Diament added, "After working together for the first time last year, relationships were developed and everything went smoother this year. And the marketers accepted it well."
Other than the limited number of commercials in the beer category, there is no category exclusivity in the tournament telecasts, so any advertiser in any category can run in the telecasts.
Regarding online streaming and mobile telecasts-digital ads for which were sold separately from TV-viewers will be able to watch all 67 games both online and on mobile. Watching the games on CBS.com will be free, while Turner cable subscribers will have to go through an authentication process to watch the games for free online. All the games will be available via a mobile package for a one-time price of $3.99. And like with the TV ads, digital is almost entirely sold out.
For advertisers who still want to get into the tournament telecasts that begin March 13, there are some scattered inventory packages available, and there are a few units left in the two semifinal and championship games. But any inventory purchased will have to be in packages.