When taking a personal poll as to which post-season sport generated the most TV basketball advertising revenue (pro football, basketball, baseball, hockey), the March NCAA tournament wasn’t even mentioned. That’s why the billion dollar plus revenue generation by the increasingly popular NCAA tournament caught those polled by such surprise. Even more unusual is that this “pot of gold” was double the TV ad expenditures for “March Madness” in 2007, the last pre-“Great Financial Recession” year. The 2012 total fetched $1.34 million for a 30 second ad spot for the Louisville-Michigan finale.
In analyzing the popularity of this amateur sport’s legendary rise to fame, I looked for aspects in America’s popular entertainment mood for this unexpected surge of excitement for an amateur sport, much less basketball, which always seemed to lag football in college sports preference, and baseball in professional observation focus.
Some might cite President Obama’s fascination with the game, or even pro-cager Dennis Rodman’s personal diplomacy with North Korea’s Kim-Jong-Un, the latest global crisis progenitor. The sheer extent of college basketball’s popularity and revenue generator is, most likely, a reflection of several factors reflecting the U.S. public’s embrace of sports in general, and basketball in particular, at times of increasing stress from both economic and geopolitical angst:
1) Whereas baseball and professional boxing and wrestling provided the great escape during the Great Depression of the 1930′s with radio the sole means of communication, along with newsreels, professional football, baseball, and basketball, even hockey, were pumped up by the subsequent advent of televison.
2) Although professional basketball and baseball, as well as college and professional football have increased immensely in the TV viewership category, the mercenary aspects of both team ownership and player wage demands have cooled the ardor of many fans, who themselves have experienced job losses or stagnant wage earnings.
3) Since college football seems to have lately been marred by scandal, the combination of college basketball’s amateur standing and the changing, more exciting nature of the game has captured the fancy of the viewing public. As the NCAA March elimination of the nation’s top 64 college teams affect most areas of this nation, the high level of interest encompasses a greater geographic involvement than any other sport.
4) While basketball was more a game of personal skills in the past, the intense physical nature of today’s approach makes it more of a contact sport that rabid TV viewers enjoy watching. In fact, the athletic expertise of college competitors has achieved such levels of skills that the margin of capability between pros and amateurs has closed to the narrowest levels ever.
This combination of exciting viewing of college kids, near the level of professional athletes, has brought forth the appreciation that these “college kids” are not only unpaid, but play for the love of the game, and the enhancement of the university they represent.
Skeptics may question this last point, since the cream of the college crop winds up in the National Basketball Association. This does not matter to the bulk of basketball enthusiasts who view basketball as likely the only untainted sport left, where amateurs can deliver the excitement usually reserved for the pros.
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