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It's Already Time To Talk March Madness

Friend of SportsBiz, Dan Shanoff, is sending updates from the 12th annual Sports Media and Technology conference in New York City.

Basketball
Basketball

Expanding the NCAA Tournament was a contentious subject among fans — 96! 68! 65! At least it’s better than the BCS! But for the TV execs, Sean McManus of CBS and David Levy of Turner, involved in the new partnership to expand the Tournament coverage beyond 65 teams (and beyond a single network), it was a no-brainer.

So what is the partnership going to yield for fans in March? The pair dug into the relationship this morning.

Here’s the headline for fans:There will be Barkley. I cannot imagine a more fun injection to what has become a fairly staid Tournament experience than to add Charles Barkley. Here's a suggestion: Throughout the day, remote him in the studio as a compliment to Seth Davis and Greg Anthony. It will be the highlight of the broadcast and an absolute must-see.

Another highlight? Rather than being stuck with your geographically assigned game, then using the online feeds to watch other games, or frustratingly watch the score ticker show you updates from other, better games, every game will be broadcast on TV in full.

So on the first Thursday evening of the Tournament, your most geographically relevant game might be on CBS, but the other games will be spread across TBS, TNT and TruTV.

(I would use “Thursday afternoon” as an example, but I think most fans have come to rely more heavily on the online feed from work or head to the nearest sports bar to keep an eye on all games at once. The first frantic days of the Tournament are still inherently social.)

Speaking of TruTV, here’s a conundrum: CBS and Turner would like you to treat the new “First Four” play-in games among the final handful of at-large tournament teams as “real” games. (Because, of course, they are.) And yet they are going to shunt the games over to TruTV.

I’m not sure I get that: Most fans don’t watch TruTV, let alone think of it when they think of sports programming. I’m not even sure that TruTV is available in HD on my system (which would be the ultimate experience-killer). If the game is so important, and it is, then why isn’t it running on CBS in primetime? Or, at the very least, TNT or TBS?

I appreciate Turner’s interest in spiking interest in TruTV — remember when ESPN used to put UNC-Duke on ESPN2 as that young network’s signature game of the year? But it’s not like TruTV has brand equity as a sports destination. It marginalizes the games.

Turner would be better off, at least in the first year of the “First Four," in staking out the legitimacy of the play-in round by putting it on a marquee TV platform, not the fourth option.

(To Levy’s credit, he broke the news that Jim Nantz would be calling one of the play-in games on TruTV. That lends an air of credibility to them, but not nearly as much as having it run on CBS or TNT in primetime, signaling to fans that this is worthy of 64-team Tournament love.)

But one of the tactics the duo covered sounds terrific: Blowing out March Madness on Demand to go way beyond the games themselves and becoming a sort of “pop-up” video network, spontaneously running college hoops programming throughout the 23 days of the Tournament.

I would be happy to watch nothing but college hoops content 24/7 through the MMOD channel, and I hope they blow the effort out. Watch for a tip-off on the Monday after Selection Sunday, on a day the combined brand is going to label “National Bracket Day.” It was already a de facto holiday for sports fans; why not try to own it?

This guest post was written by Dan Shanoff, founder of Quickish, a start-up media company launching a sports product in December. Over his 15-year career in online media, he has worked for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the NFL, Real Fans Sports Network (acquired by AOL) and Associated Content (acquired by Yahoo). Follow him on Twitter at or reach him though email at dan@quickish.com.

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