The NCAA tournament is hugely popular but it's all about the money in March.

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One could easily make the case that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is the second most popular sporting event in the United States each year, trailing only the Super Bowl. Dollar figures certainly back that up.

A 30 second commercial during the men’s national title game runs for a cool $1.5 million and a similar spot during the NBA Finals costs just $520,000. A Super Bowl ad costs more than $5 million. (Figures according to the personal finance site,

The main key to getting eyeballs to television sets during sporting events is to get both the casual fan and the jaded sports fan. The “root, root, root for the home team” type is already watching if their team is in it. It’s the viewer with no traditional rooting interest that interests advertisers most and the easiest way to get people to care is if there’s money on the line.

“Squares pools” during the Super Bowl is tiddliwinks compared to the number of people and the amount of cash wagered during March Madness.


WalletHub estimates that $9 billion was wagered on the 2015 NCAA tournament ($7 billion illegally) and estimates $1.9 billion was the hourly loss amount by companies due to unproductive workers during March Madness 2015 (there are dozens of games played during traditional work days during the first two full days of the tournament).

Work for free

Around this time every year comes a national cry to have college basketball players, who pull in ungodly dollar amounts for the NCAA and their TV partners, to be compensated. Unfortunately for these athletes, it does not look like that’s going to happen any time soon as Northwestern football players were denied their request to form the first collegiate union for athletes by the National Labor Relations Board last August.

“The NCAA is working very hard to avoid paying their athletes,” said sports law expert Marc Edelman of Baruch College in New York City.

Place your bets

Two years ago in March, you couldn’t turn on your TV set without hearing about “Warren Buffett’s Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge.” It was as wildly popular as it was different because it skated around gambling laws. You didn’t have to wager your own money to enter this contest. You simply had to sign an online form at that gave some basic personal info to the mortgage lending company, Quicken Loans.

To win the billion, all you had to do was fill out a perfect bracket. According to WalletHub, it is two times easier to win back-to-back Mega Millions lotteries than it is to fill out a perfect bracket. Needless to say, no one won the billion in 2014.

Last year, Quicken Loans, Yahoo! and Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway all ended up squabbling in court over who came up with the idea first, and there have been no plans to reinstate the contest since.

And not only did the people behind the idea itself wind up having a problem with it, the NCAA did as well.

“The NCAA was very opposed [to the billion dollar bracket], so much so that I received a phone call from someone from the NCAA to discuss the issue,” Edelman, who is also a featured blogger for Forbes Sports Money and Sports Law, said. “As a matter of law it was legal because there was no entry fee and it wouldn’t be considered wagering. But some people implied that a $1 Billion prize would create incentive for individuals to fix the tournament.”

Edelman added that the NCAA also has a major concern with daily fantasy sports, despite it helping to boost TV ratings.

“They’re concerned that some athletes who don’t have much money, and of course – they’re not paid to play, will bet on or against themselves in daily fantasy,” Edelman said. “The NCAA’s big fear is having a major gambling scandal again.”

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