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Is March Madness as Lucrative as the Super Bowl?

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Sixteen teams are a step closer to the Big Championship Game and another 32 are playing what could possibly be the last game of their season this afternoon. Yes, it's March Madness time!

The NCAA tournament has become one of the most watched and anticipated sporting events of the year and advertisers are increasingly spending more money to grab the attention of college basketball fans. More than 140 million people are expected to tune into this year's games.

Last year ad revenue during the men's tournament reached an all-time high of $738 million, an increase of 20.2 percent from the prior year according to Kantar Media. The top ten advertisers in 2011 spent a combined total of $272.7 million to pitch their products to viewers.

March Madness TV ads feature the usual suspects every year: automakers, energy drinks, airlines and sports apparel makers. But there's one group that's conspicuously absent from this marquee event: beer companies. The NCAA "strictly limits alcohol advertising" during the 67-game tournament and "bans sales and advertising of all alcohol in the venues of its championships," according to the NCAA Web site. Just six percent of the ads aired during the 2011 Final Four and championship game were alcohol related.

"Because most of the players and students are not of drinking age" the NCAA does not "really support or condone" drinking ads, says Horizon Media's Brad Adgate in an interview with The Daily Ticker.

March Madness may not pull in the pricey ad rates like the Super Bowl, but advertisers are willing to spend millions to reach potential customers. The average cost of a 30-second ad in last year's men's championship game was just over $1.24 million. CBS has taken in $4.85 billion in March Madness ad sales from 2001 to 2010.

The NCAA men's basketball tournament ranks as the second most lucrative post-season sports franchise in terms of national TV ad revenue, according to Kantar Media research. Kantar's latest March Madness Advertising Trends Report finds that the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship "consistently brings in more money than the post-season playoffs for Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association." The top five advertisers in last year's tournament were General Motors, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Capital One Financial.

"It's a live sporting event…and that's always popular with advertisers," Adgate says. "[March Madness] brings in a sizable audience." And college basketball fans tend to be a more affluent, Adgate notes.

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