With college football well under way, the Men’s NCAA College Basketball Season is right around the corner — a marathon of games (thousands of them) over the next four months before ending in “March Madness” and the crowning of the NCAA Division I National Champion. And like college football, Ad-Supported Cable is the premier source for watching college basketball all season long – from the regular season on ESPN, ESPN2 and The Big Ten Network (BTN), to the NCAA Tournament on TBS, TNT and TruTV.
When it comes to the men’s college basketball season (and conference championships), cable was responsible for delivering the vast majority of household gross impressions (as well as upscale and highly educated household impressions) with ESPN alone accounting for over one-third of them:
The highest national cable ratings for college basketball accrue to ESPN which for several years was able to maintain (and sometimes grow) their Live U.S. household ratings. But last season the games were negatively impacted by three factors — cord cutting, increased VOD, OTT and DVR usage and the migration of viewing to all things digital – which collectively dragged down ratings and shares anywhere from 15% to 25%. Lower viewing, however, did not impact ESPN’s ability to attract a very upscale audience; indeed, ESPN’s highest average rating accrued to the highest household income break ($250,000+). The same goes for the highest education break (Graduate School):
Local Market Ratings Soar above the Rim
The ESPN ratings story is really just the tip of the iceberg, since behind the network’s nationwide popularity is the tremendous spike in local market interest when hometown teams appear on national telecasts. For example, the January 23rd game between the Sooners of Oklahoma and Texas Long Horns delivered a national U.S. Household rating of .76. But in each team’s respective home DMA, ratings were three-to-four times higher. And that’s not unusual at all as can be seen in the chart below in which DMA ratings can surpass national levels by a factor of ten… and sometimes even more:
Local Cable Advertising Demand
Based on what we’ve heard from our local advertisers, their continued strong interest in men’s basketball is based on the general excitement and high profile nature of the college game in their respective markets. Over the past two regular seasons (2015-16 & 2016-17), over 800 Viamedia clients ordered nearly 28,000+ 30-second spots across 67 markets (87% of Viamedia’s nationwide footprint.) That comes to an average of 33 spots per advertiser.
Source: Viamedia B.I.G.SM database (Sports & High Profile Tracker module). Copyright © 2017 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Although ESPN captures the largest share of local cable advertising dollars (and highest ratings), it should be noted that there are several other cable networks that have attracted the interest of Viamedia clients nationwide. ESPN2, for example, captured 22% of local dollars, followed by the Big Ten Network at 9%, leaving another eight regional cable networks dividing an additional 10%:
Local Cable Advertising Categories
As is the case with every other major sport (professional or collegiate) profiled in this space, men’s college basketball attracts a broad array of car manufacturers, regional dealer groups and individual dealerships. In all, the Automotive category captured a 41 share of total local cable advertising – a figure that is two-and-one-half times the size of the next two largest categories, Financial Services and Hardware & Home Improvement (both with an 8% share). But it should be noted that, while Automotive’ s share is about 20% higher than what we normally see for this category company-wide, the latter two categories are about 70% higher than average:
A Much-Needed Return to the Hardwood Floor
There have been a few rough bumps along the road to the 2017-18 college men’s basketball season. And that’s putting it mildly… very mildly. Back in late September, federal investigators in New York revealed several allegations about unethical recruiting violations, which is (regrettably) a recurring theme for college basketball. This time around, the charges included steering players to certain financial advisors (once they turned pro), as well as under-the-table sneaker endorsement deals. The blowback reached the very highest echelons of college basketball with Louisville’s head basketball coach placed on “unpaid administrative leave.”
Frankly, I’m not sure what all of this means to the typical college basketball fan. What I do know is that, once the season begins in mid-November, college arenas around the country will be filled with screaming fans, rooting for the home team and mercilessly heckling opposing players at the foul line. And for those unable to attend the games, they will get more than their fill with dozens of games each week on cable TV. After all the unseemly revelations, it will be a much-needed return to the hardwood floor. Enjoy the games!
Written by Jonathan Sims
VP of Media Research, Viamedia