From the Basement: March Madness in danger of being overrun with advertisements


Image by Emily Meyer

Advertising and athletics go hand in hand, especially during championship games, but the ubiquitous nature of ads in college athletics, particularly basketball, has the potential to grow into an even larger beast.

On Monday, America waved goodbye to March Madness as North Carolina defeated Gonzaga 71-65 on its way to avenging its loss in the previous year’s championship to Villanova. Likewise, America also waved goodbye to one of the biggest advertisement cash cows on television.

No matter what sport is on the air, advertisements are sure to be found. March Madness, however, seems to be a particularly extreme example of this reality. Aside from the NFL, no other sports event or sports organization brings in more money from advertisers than this pinnacle of collegiate basketball.

Even so, change is expected. On March 22, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell promised fans that the NFL will cut back on the advertisements and focus on making games more watchable for fans. This decision might be attributed to falling ratings over the 2016-17 season due to the length of the games being extended by the amount of advertisements.

Should Goodell keep true on his promise and cut back on the commercials, March Madness could become first in the nation in postseason sports advertisement spending. In 2016 alone, advertisers spent $1.24 billion on television advertisements for the NCAA postseason, increasing from $1.12 billion in 2015.

Given that the NFL’s television advertisers spent $1.32 billion in the same year, a difference of a mere $74 million, it is not a stretch to assume that March Madness could take over the top spot in ad spending in the years to come.

The March Madness tournament also shows no signs of slowing down. The Nielsen ratings per game during the Elite 8 round were just shy of 10 million viewers, a 10 percent increase from the year before, making it the third-most-watched Elite 8 round in the last 24 years.

In a tournament that already puts branding on everything, from halftime to the fan shoutouts to the cutting of the net, the March Madness tournament only promises to grow every year as the NCAA finds more and more ways to advertise.

The NFL suffered a hit to ratings throughout the season, and its postseason only features 16 teams. The NFL postseason has a more limited slate of opportunities for advertisers, including the coveted yet prohibitively expensive Super Bowl commercial spots.

The NCAA must consider that, as the NFL works on cutting back advertising, the NFL will be in the spotlight. March Madness and those who run it should take some time to trim away excessive advertising to make sure it does not lose the interest and favor of fans.

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