While Economy Dribbles, NCAA Ad Sales Score

There's a bright spot in this depressing advertising environment — the NCAA basketball tournament. John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal talks with Jacki Lyden about solid ad sales for this year's tourney, which entered its second round Saturday.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

But there is at least one place where the ad dollars are flowing.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

Unidentified Announcer #1: Jumper. At the buzzer, Sienna wins.

LYDEN: The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is going strong. Just in case you didn't hear the screams of agony from Ohio State fans last night, tiny Sienna College knocked them out.

CBS is in the middle of an 11-year, $6-billion contract for exclusive broadcast rights to March Madness. That's a lot of cash, and it means CBS needs to sell a lot of advertising at a time when the economy is barely dribbling.

John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal says that CBS is well on its way to meeting its goal.

Mr. JOHN OURAND (Sports Business Journal): Right now, they are about - a little bit more than 90 percent sold for the entire tournament. They sold out this weekend's games. They still have a handful of units left for next weekend's games, and they have what was termed to me as a couple left for the final four games and the championship game.

LYDEN: Sounds pretty good.

Mr. OURAND: Yeah, it's doing well. It's what Sean McManus, the president of CBS News and Sports, said is a little pocket of good news amidst this big recession that's really just killing the advertising market.

LYDEN: John, earlier this week, we spoke with Tom Zeangus(ph) of the Nielsen ratings company. They just released a study about advertising trends during the NCAA tournament. So, let's hear what he had to say about General Motors.

Mr. TOM ZEANGUS (Nielsen Ratings Company): They've been a premier sponsor for CBS, probably the heaviest involvement over the past several years. General Motors last year spent almost $65 million in the NCAA tournament games.

LYDEN: Now, considering all the troubles GM's had since last year's tournament, I don't think anyone expected them to be here at all.

Mr. OURAND: Well, GM is a corporate champion of the NCAA. So, as such, they had a multiyear contract with CBS, and they're honoring that contract. This speaks to a larger issue about whether or not people think it's wise to advertise during events like the Final Four, or events like the Super Bowl. To ask GM to try to grow its business without advertising in places where people are going to watch is really not realistic.

LYDEN: Let's get to another interesting tidbit from Nielsen's research from last year. Here's Tom Zeangus again.

Mr. ZEANGUS: The top categories in regard to spending in the NCAA tournament are the automotive category and the financial investment services category.

LYDEN: Ouch, ouch, ouch. Automotive, financial services, you couldn't find two harder-hit industries. So, how are these sectors being represented this time around, John Ourand?

Mr. OURAND: Financial services have been completely shut out. They're not doing anything. Last year, CBS got big buys from AIG and from Wachovia, and they're obviously not spending at all.

Where they're seeing a lot of growth is with Hollywood. People - the movies are coming in, and they're really advertising, they're (unintelligible), that's also where the Super Bowl the past few years has seen a lot of growth, with advertisers that really want to get that demo of the young men that are sitting there, you know, with face paint on watching the games.

LYDEN: Tell us about this thing called - I love the name - the boss button.

Mr. OURAND: Well, because they have the games coming to the computer, a lot of people in their cubicles stream it to their computer at work. CBS has something called the boss button.

So, if your boss comes in, you can press this button, and all of a sudden, an Excel spreadsheet pops up on your computer instead of the actual live video. So, you can fake your boss into thinking that you're working, and they actually have sold that to Comcast.

Comcast is a sponsor of the boss button, one of the more unique sponsorships out there.

LYDEN: I don't think I'd fool anyone with that.

Mr. OURAND: I don't think too many people are actually fooled by that, but it is a unique, fun application.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: John Ourand writes for Sports Business Journal. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Mr. OURAND: Thank you. This was great.

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