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Hoop It Up for Gains: The Coca-Cola Company (KO), Time Warner Inc (TWX), General Motors Company (GM)

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This year’s NCAA men’s basketball tourney tips off Mar. 19, and as millions of Americans prepare to predict a few surprising bracket results it’s interesting to note a mild surprise about March Madness itself: the frenzied spectacle garnered just over $1 billion in advertising revenue in 2012, according to Kantar Media, making it the most lucrative post-season sports franchise as measured by national TV advertising revenue—ahead of the NFL ($976 million) and NBA playoffs ($537 million). Many public companies are winning as a result; investors may be able to do the same.

The Coca-Cola Company (KO)

Since CBS Corporation (NYSE:CBS) and Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX) forged a $10.8 billion deal in 2010 to share multi-platform coverage of the tourney through 2024, March Madness has blown up. The alliance began in 2011 and through two years has produced a whopping 64% increase in advertising revenue over 2010, according to Kantar Media. One major reason for the heady increase is the live feature of every tourney game across the CBS broadcast channel and Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX) networks TNT, TBS and truTV, leading to higher overall ratings. CBS notes greater profitability from its restructured tourney involvement because the programing cost savings it has reaped by bringing aboard Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX) offsets its advertising share loss. Time Warner enjoys greater leverage in carriage fee negotiations surrounding TNT, TBS and truTV—especially the latter—and has already cashed in the networks’ annual feature of dunks and buzzer beaters.

The tourney’s reinvigorated embrace of online and social media offerings has boosted advertising revenue, too. Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX) will use alternative platforms as a value-add this year by offering pay-TV subscribers free streaming access to all 67 games, and tourney content is available at websites including CBSSports.com and NCAA.com. At the latter portal, for example, HD channel March Madness Live is completely advertiser-supported. Both Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX) and CBS can use multi-platform tourney coverage to help offset rising programming costs going forward, and given the immediacy of sports the genre is seen as a key catalyst to ramping adoption of timely, engaging online features by consumers.

The tourney’s multi-media thrust, meanwhile, affords tourney marketers ample and growing consumer-connection avenues with which to swell brand exposure. Top March Madness advertisers over the last two years include General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) and Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE:COF), said Kantar Media.

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