NCAA March Madness: Big Money Rides on Young Students

Jed HughesCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2013

Virginia Commonwealth Men's Basketball head coach, Shaka Smart (center), coached the Rams to a Final Four appearance in 2011
Virginia Commonwealth Men's Basketball head coach, Shaka Smart (center), coached the Rams to a Final Four appearance in 2011Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Selection Sunday, held this year on St. Patrick's Day, is always exciting for major college basketball powerhouses and for the "bubble" teams who barely got their ticket punched to the tournament. The championship dreams of 68 teams entering the tournament will be fulfilled by only one. 

March Madness has quickly evolved into a national phenomenon and is perhaps the most closely followed postseason in all of sports. Countless hours of productivity will be lost in the office as millions of fans will pour over their brackets and figure out their office pool standings on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, the NCAA National Championship Game continues to grow in popularity and has become one of the most highly rated sports events shown on broadcast TV. Last year’s championship game between Kentucky and Kansas drew an estimated 20.9 million viewers, an increase of 5% from the preceding championship contest.  Additionally, technology has made following the tournament much easier via an enhanced NCAA March Madness Live App by Turner Sports that is available for the 2013 tournament. Fans now have complete access to live games and news 24/7 even if they cannot glue themselves in front of a TV.

More importantly for colleges and networks, the tournament has become the most lucrative postseason advertising spending platform in all of sports, surpassing the NFL last year. According to a study released by Kantar Media, a marketing and research firm, ad revenue for the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament surpassed $1 billion. No wonder why CBS and Turner agreed to a $10.8 billion, 14-year TV broadcast rights contract with the NCAA. 

Athletic programs that do well in the tournament will see a larger share of the financially lucrative pie.  This, in turn, puts enormous pressure on coaches, athletic directors and players to succeed. Ultimately, it is the dozen or so teenagers who control millions of dollars in future revenues for their respective schools. Often, NCAA tourney games come down to making the final free throws or a clutch jump shot to seal a victory. This makes for a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of athletes who often come from impoverished economic backgrounds.

The Butler Bulldogs have gone from a Cinderella story to one of the top basketball schools in less than five years. The Bulldogs made the NCAA Tournament Championship game in consecutive years (2010 and 2011) via exciting victories by narrow margins. Despite missing the tournament last year, they enter the 2013 NCAA Men’s Tournament as a No. 6 seed after posting a 24-7 regular season record.

Virginia Commonwealth has reached new levels of success under head coach Shaka Smart.  Following the Rams' 2011 NCAA Final Four appearance and a second consecutive NCAA bid in 2012, VCU was able to jump from the mid-major division Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) to the more competitive Atlantic 10 Conference. They were named the No. 5 seed in the NCAA's South region this year.

As the tournament begins, it won’t matter how many games a team won in the regular season. There will undoubtedly be upsets and triumphs, but what counts most is the team cutting down the net on April 8th and the lucrative payouts conferences are rewarded for their team’s success in the tournament.


Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high profile placements are New York Jets GM John Idzik, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy, New York Jets President Neil Glat, and Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. Earlier in his career, Jed coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.