This year, the NCAA men's basketball tournament is expected to bring in more than $1.1 billion in commercial spending for broadcasters CBS and Turner. If last year is any indication, more than 10 companies—like Coca-Cola and Unilever—could end up spending more than $25 million each on ads.
2014 March Madness top advertisers ($ millions)
$83M General Motors
$42 Anheuser-Busch InBev
$41 Capital One
$32 Southwest Airlines
Source: Kantar Media
Seventeen official corporate sponsors have each paid $10 million to $35 million to the NCAA for privileges like excluding their direct competitors from television advertising during the tournament. The payments to be an official sponsor are on top of the price paid to CBS and Turner to air commercials.
Among these sponsors, four have seen particularly large growth in awareness, led by Buffalo Wild Wings.
Its ubiquitous commercials during the tournament have brought it the most success in recent days, according to Amobee Brand Intelligence. This is the third year that Buffalo Wild Wings has been an official NCAA sponsor. Even so, its connection to sports has helped it outperform the S&P 500 in March for the last 10 consecutive years.
That goes to a wider point: Amobee says six of the top 10 brands getting the most attention are not actually official sponsors.
Nike, Samsung, Nationwide Insurance, Gatorade, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut have all done a masterful job of gaining attention through their ads, even without paying the NCAA directly. Amobee's data are based on Web traffic data at more than 600,000 sites and a wide panel of customers sharing 100 percent of their usage data, using natural language processing to analyze every ad impression and mention.
Finally, there is the entire social media piece—some of the early tournament data on digital campaigns are starting to come through. According to marketing firm AddThis, food giant Nabisco and insurer Allstate have seen more than 100 percent increases in social traffic in the past few days—a direct result of the tournament. LG, Lowe's and Amazon's Kindle Fire product also have seen large growth.
"If you're able to connect with your audience in a way that captures their attention, it can have lift well beyond the initial sponsorship," said Lauren Kreisberg, director of data insights at AddThis.