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March madness
Mar 19, 2021

March Madness 2020: the triumphant return of advertisers

March Madness advertisers in 2021

Since live sports took a hiatus in 2020, advertisers should be thrilled for the return of NCAA’s month-long basketball tournament, March Madness. 

As you may have guessed, March Madness was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic but fans are eagerly awaiting the chance to tune in to this year’s broadcast. In addition, media rights holders CBS and Turner Sports maintain a positive outlook on the event, anticipating millions of viewers and more than $1 billion in revenue.

Advertisers are also getting excited, says Jon Diament, Turner Sport chief revenue officer: “it feels like most of the categories that were challenged during the pandemic, including movies and streaming services, will be back.” The automotive, insurance, and restaurant industries are also expected to grow following a dramatic decrease due to COVID-19, as vaccines become widely available.

What are some more reasons why this year’s March Madness is a positive sign for advertisers?


Brands are buying in

Perhaps the largest draw for advertisers during March Madness is the opportunity to connect with consumers over an extended period of time. Even some brands that sat out the Super Bowl earlier this year, such as Coca-Cola and Geico, are listed as official corporate partners of the 21-day tournament.

From 2015 to 2019, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament generated more than $4.5 billion of national TV ad spending. Equally positive, is the 102 total advertisers in 2019, 67 of which were returning from the previous year.

Early data from our Most Viewed Video Ads chart shows a diverse range of advertisers has already begun drumming up excitement. The chart is a compilation of the most-watched video ad campaigns as measured by AcuityAds’ True Reach Insights Platform, check out the top 5 spots so far:


Campaign Name Release Date Views
1) Invesco – Agents of Innovation 13-Mar 4,952,645
2) Buffalo Wild Wings – March Madness Is Back 15-Mar 2,172,808
3) Capital One – Go With Your G.O.A.T. 14-Mar 569,231
4) Ritz Crackers – A Snack For Everyone 16-Mar 534,157
5) Buick – Quadruple Take 08-Mar 384,957


Audiences are getting smarter

Stay-at-home orders and strict lockdown measures transformed the way we consume content, and it’s clear that audiences are becoming savvier with technology.

In 2019, the NCAA said March Madness garnered more than 100 million live streams, a 31% increase from the previous year. On average, adults in the US will spend 23% more time watching OTT video and more than 60 minutes per day watching digital video in 2021.

The media rights to March Madness come with a hefty price tag, and the owners expect a bigger audience, a younger audience, and new audiences each year. With the proliferation of connected TV and smart devices capable of tuning in, the prospect of exponential growth is great news for advertisers.


Contextual advertising is back in vogue

The idea of delivering ads based on what a person might be watching, listening to or reading isn’t new. Although, the advent of machine learning and AI has brought far greater precision by matching creative ad formats to the keywords, syntax, and semantics of the content. Aligning advertising with the same category of content makes ads more relevant to the consumer. 

That’s why March Madness presents a great opportunity for endemic brands to resonate with consumers starving for live sports content.

While being relevant is clearly important for ads to draw viewer attention, knowing the ads are being exposed to users who are engaged is even better.


Learn more about contextual advertising

Modern digital advertising is cross-cultural and contextual. In this report from Digiday and AcuityAds, explore how advertisers are responding to a web of consumer needs and preferences, informed by traditions, values and beliefs.