This year’s March Madness tourney may very well become the “tip-in” point for live online features of big-time sporting events. The NFL put a few game streams on the Web this past season and ESPN360.com has proffered live sports coverage since ’07, but the breadth—and particularly the usage—of online offerings surrounding the ultra-popular tourney provides further evidence that sports content providers would be wise to use the Web as a teammate.

Through four tourney days, the NCAA March Madness on Demand Player has garnered 5.6mln unique visitors, a 60% surge over last year, while delivering 6.5mln total hours of video and audio, which amounts to a 71% year-over-year increase. Furthermore, the Comcast-sponsored boss button—employers beware!—has logged 2.5mln clicks after posting that same amount for the entire ’08 tourney. Meanwhile, it’s important to note that CBS’ TV coverage has also achieved growth (+6%).

CBS, the NCAA and CBS College Sports Net cite cross-platform marketing and promotions, plus ubiquitous availability and HD streams, as key reasons for the player’s early ’09 success. This year, for example, promotions have been featured within CBS shows such as “60 Minutes” and “CSI Miami,” and partner sites include ESPN.com, Yahoo! Sports and USAToday.com.

Advertisers, too, recognize the player’s star quality. Ad revenues for NCAA March Madness on Demand were $4mln in ’06, $10mln in ’07, and $23mln last year. Expectations call for more than $30mln in ad rev this year.

Look for those dollars to further trend upward in the years ahead, particularly if the tourney-related Web features continue to bury previous records. A national men’s basketball champion won’t be crowned until early Apr, but NCAA March Madness on Demand has set a worthy example with its winning ways.

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