Marketing & Sponsorships

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Shaky March Madness Numbers Show Changes in Viewership

20 Apr, 2016

By: Tracey Schelmetic

When sports business analysts look back at viewership statistics for March Madness 2016, it’s unlikely that it will be a year for the record books. Early in the tournament, it became obvious that viewership was down: the NCAA Selection Show for this year produced its lowest ratings in close to 20 years. College basketball in general has seen a decline in ratings for the 2015-2016 season. Part of the reason is that 2015 was a blockbuster year: the first three days of the 2015 NCAA Tournament saw the highest viewership since CBS began broadcasting the entire tournament. Another reason is that college basketball viewership has generally been on a downward trend. Even the cost of national TV advertising was down, contributing to what was known in business circles as 'March Sadness.'

Another reason, though, may be that people are just keeping track of the tournament in a different way according to Ben Frederick writing for Mobile Marketing Daily. Viewership that may have once belonged to the big screen is now being disseminated to the small screen.

“Viewers will use mobile sites and apps to check for updates more than any other screen, according to a recent survey from Opera Mediaworks,” wrote Frederick. “Nearly 25 percent of those watching on TV will be checking apps and sites for updates on other games in the tournament. Also, 60 percent of those who do keep up to date on the games will do so through sports apps.”

Sports apps are becoming increasingly popular today, and the potential for marketers across devices is very high. (Digital Trends offers a review of some of the best apps for March Madness here.) The television screen advertiser is having to get a lot more creative if it wants to reach fans where they watch. It’s also an important trend to pay attention to among younger sports fans, who are actually more likely to be influenced by advertising material on their small device screens.

“Among those watching the games on broadcast TV, 28 percent are likely to look up an ad again on their device,” noted Frederick. “Some 42 percent of those ages 18 to 24 will be keeping up using mobile devices -- which makes sense, as Millennials tend to be mobile-first device users.”

Marketers need to understand that a good mobility strategy does not involve taking marketing practices that worked for television viewers and shrinking them for mobile devices. There are opportunities galore in the areas of (for example) leveraging mobile location data to target people who attend games, differently from those who watch the games from bars or from home. (A recent analysis by App Developer Magazine found that 79 percent of March Madness apps, including CBS Sports, Dish and Tournament Challenge, are already capable of accessing mobile device location tracking functionality.)

The so-called “second screen” phenomenon is growing: this involves television watchers using their mobile phones as peripheral media for game analysis, social media interaction or different views of the action. For those who do not view games in the traditional way, mobile apps are becoming the way to keep track of game highlights without having to devote an entire evening to sitting behind the television. Increasingly, even live event attendees are using their mobile devices to customize their game experience.

So is television marketing for college basketball dead? Of course not...most viewers are still watching television broadcasts. This year’s unsteady television viewership numbers, however, suggest that the paradigm is changing.

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