Research Digest

March Madness? More Like March “Adness”! Here’s How Advertisers Can Deliver on Performance Promises, On and Off the Court


  • The biggest March Madness advertisers spent $247 million during the tournament in 2023, with the first eight days of the tournament through the Sweet Sixteen round garnering a 22% YoY  increase in advertising revenue.
  • Interest in women’s sports is skyrocketing — 2023’s NCAAWBB final was the most-viewed game on record, up 103% from 2022.
  • The March Madness tournament might be capturing headlines, but advertisers on MNTN Performance TV were generating strong returns during this time.

Move over, NFL — it’s basketball’s time to shine. This week marks the final rounds of the NCAA tournament, where all eyes are as much on the ads as they are on the teams. According to Statista, last year’s men’s tournament drew an average 10 million viewers per game, and the women’s tournament was the most-watched women’s college basketball game on record since 2008-2009, with a 37% YoY viewership increase across ESPN platforms. 

This year, the games will be shown across satellite, cable, and streaming TV, but streaming will be the least expensive option for fans looking to watch all women’s and men’s games. 65% of US households tuned into March Madness programming last year; if that fact isn’t enough to convert you as a marketer into a Connected TV die-hard, then keep reading. We examine the evolving relationship between March Madness and streaming, and showcase the benefits of advertising on CTV.

News and Entertainment Networks Are the MVP

If you thought only sports-centric networks were the big winners during March Madness, think again. Based on data sourced from the MNTN platform, we saw a diverse range of streaming networks drive the biggest ROAS last year — CNN, The CW, and Peacock made the top three networks.

But what was particularly interesting was, when you compared that list to the one the previous year — when CBS Sports, Discovery Family, and the Golf Channel topped the list —, there weren’t direct parallels or patterns with the best performing streaming networks.. If anything, this tells us Connected TV’s presence in the digital space is growing, and it’s generating better and better performance across all genres during any cultural tentpole. 

Top Connected TV Network Ranked by ROAS

Which Industries Are Advertising on Performance TV at the Same Time As March Madness?

There may not have been patterns among the streaming networks, but we did see some in the verticals that had an ongoing presence on Connected TV during the tournament. In both 2022 and 2023, business and consumer services, travel, home and garden, fashion and apparel were all top performers (based on return on ad spend).

Home and garden and travel, in particular, were among the top three revenue performers during this period in both 2022 and 2023. This tracks, given March Madness lands during spring break, and the beginning of spring is an opportunity for advertisers in these verticals to take advantage of the increased Connected TV viewership.

But Who Is the March Madness Fan?

Mature viewership reigned, with a survey from YouGov revealing that a third of NCAA fans are aged over 65, with 40%two-fifths aged between 45 and 64. 

When asked where they usually watch the game, the majority of viewers chose to watch the game on TV in the comfort of their living room, followed by on their computers (to check scores), and at a bar or public space.

71% of March Madness Viewers Watch the Game at Home on TV

In 2022 there was an 85% increase in viewers watching March Madness games live on streaming platforms like Roku — a testament to CTV having both feet firmly planted in the world of sports.

Connected TV platforms like MNTN letenable advertisers to easily target sports fans —- whether that be during March Madness or other big sports moments —, and generate performance year-round. For example, you can target sports fans who enjoy going to restaurants or bars, and test these against psychometric factors like viewers who watch content on CTV, and then measure performance between the two to find out which audience is getting the most traction. 

From a creative perspective, there are learnings that we can apply from other sports moments like the Big Game — in our recent Peeks Poll, we found that marketers loved funny and emotional/heartwarming ads. 

The Performance Peak = The NCAA Finals

Brands who optimized their MNTN Performance TV campaigns for performance on Connected TV during the same dates as the NCAA tournament saw an added revenue boost at the end of March and early April, all thanks to increased viewership on streaming during this time. Much like other tentpole cultural and seasonal moments, ROAS was the top revenue driver, easily beating out other performance goals like CPA and CPV.

As we dug further into how advertisers set up their campaigns during this time, we also noticed that advertisers’ budget allocations were almost entirely backward — and costing them major revenue opportunities. 

Revenue Split by Performance Goal

In 2022, more than 75% of ad spend went to prospecting campaigns, but only yielded half of total revenue. That intensified in 2023: prospecting campaigns made up a little under 75% of total ad spend, yet retargeting campaigns generated nearly three-quarters of the revenue. 

Ad Spend by Objective and Revenue by Objective

This suggests that retargeting is nowhere near as tapped an opportunity as it could be, particularly for advertisers who already have a strong retargeting pool in place. While smaller and younger businesses certainly need to build up their audiences with a strong prospecting budget, it’s all in service of the long-term goal: being able to capitalize on seasonal moments by activating retargeting campaigns well in advance, then increasing that retargeting spend specifically to get the maximum bang for your buck. 

The Future of Sports Is Streaming 

Whether you end up picking a winner (or not) for the tournament, advertisers of all types and sizes stand to win on Connected TV during March Madness. Add to that the fact that it happens right as the weather is warming up and people are starting to make spring break travel plans, and advertisers have more than enough reasons to get started on Connected TV. The performance odds on this channel are unbeatable.

Subscribe to the MNTN Research Weekly

Sign up to receive a weekly feed of curated research, sent straight to your inbox.