Exclusive: Bar, Hotel Viewing Lifts March Madness Numbers 20%

Having posted the strongest March Madness TV ratings since 2005, CBS and Turner Sports also experienced a major bounce among a fan base that can be somewhat difficult to pin down.

CBS' and Turner's joint coverage of the 2011 Men’s Division I Basketball Championship earned a significant lift from out-of-home viewing, as the overall delivery of viewers aged 18-49 improved 20 percent based on Arbitron Portable People Meter data: from a national TV audience base of 4.69 million viewers 18-49, the out-of-home count brought the average audience in that demographic group to around 5.65 million across the 67-game slate.

The partners also saw an 18 percent boost among adults 25-54, while the 18-34 demo swelled 24 percent when Arbitron's portable data was added.

All told, CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV saw a 15 percent boost from fans who watched the tourney in bars, restaurants, hotels and other common areas. While the rights holders do not guarantee ratings drawn in nontraditional venues, the Arbitron numbers go a long way toward reinforcing the intrinsic value of the 14-year, $10.8 billion March Madness pact.

“The out-of-home audience that we all know is an intrinsic part of live sports deliveries is baked into the premium,” said Jon Diament, Turner Sports evp, ad sales and marketing. “We don’t think buyers are ever going to want to pay extra for these deliveries, but then again, the sports marketplace is so strong that we really don’t need to make those kind of guarantees in the first place.”

Along with alumni who cheered on their college teams everywhere from Applebee's to their corner pub, many business travelers tuned in to the games in hotel rooms and airport lounges. Early research suggests that the nature of the out-of-home venue may have a direct impact on category receptivity. For example, fans who watched a game or two in a hotel are likely to be more open to ads for travel-related services such as rental cars and airlines.

Turner signed on as an Arbitron client in September 2009. CBS followed suit shortly thereafter. Last year, the broadcaster used the Arbitron data to measure out-of-home viewership of its coverage of the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

“We’ve always known that there is a large audience that chooses to watch many of the games in out-of-home environments and this really gives us the hard data to support that proposition,” said John Bogusz, evp, sales and marketing at CBS Sports. “I’d say we did extremely well on all fronts. By and large, the production was handled flawlessly, the ratings were up and revenue was up in the double digits.”

The CBS-Turner partnership couldn’t have tipped off at a better time for either group, as the sports marketplace has become a magnet for sponsor dollars. The automotive category has been particularly robust in the last several quarters; as Bogusz notes, all three of the domestic car manufacturers invested in this year’s tourney. 

The 2011 edition of March Madness averaged 10.2 million total viewers, marking the biggest aggregate draw since 2005, according to Nielsen. And while Monday night’s UConn-Butler final may well be remembered as the ugliest championship showdown in history, the game still delivered some 20.1 million viewers to CBS.

Per Kantar Media analysis, the NCAA tourney is the second most lucrative post-season sports franchise in terms of national TV ad revenue, trailing only the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl. Despite the ravages of the recession, CBS in 2010 notched $613.8 million in March Madness revenue. The average price of a 30-second spot in last year’s title game between Duke and Butler was $1.22 million.

In the past decade, CBS’ tourney coverage has generated $4.85 billion in ad sales.

Each year, the tournament accommodates anywhere between 80 to 100 on-air sponsors. General Motors once again outspent the rest of the field in 2010, investing some $47.2 million in March Madness inventory, while runner-up AT&T pitched in $35 million.