March Madness Or Marketing Madness? Why NCAA Tournament Is Holy Grail of Marketing

As everyone knows, March Madness, the NCAA Men's Division 1 Basketball Championship, has turned into a marketing bonanza. This is particularly good news for both TV and online video. Appointment viewing night after night, and this year’s Tournament offers viewers more options than ever before – i.e. TV, TV Everywhere on multiple devices, apps for Google Play, Apple's iOS, live streaming on laptops/desktops, etc.

And, let’s not overlook the productivity impact for companies' bottom lines when all their loyal employees begin making up excuses to ditch conference calls or deadlines so that they can sit in their cubicle or office and watch a live stream of their favorite team advancing to the next round.

If you're curious, this year's estimate, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, is that workers will spend an average of three hours per day during the tournament watching college hoops - with a total loss of productivity of $134 million. I wonder if Marissa Meyer's IT team at Yahoo is busy blocking the March Madness stream for Yahoo employees?



March Madness has grown into the second-most popular sports showcase for advertisers behind the NFL playoffs and ahead of the NBA and Major League Baseball post-season contests. Per Kantar Media, the NCAA was able to parlay this popularity into a TV rights agreement worth $10.8 billion over 14 years.

How did they do it?

With a penchant for alliteration, the NCAA has created brand identities for the entire tournament and interim playoffs by giving them names such as March Madness, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four. Even non-fans hear these words on their social network, on the news, in the newspaper, on the sites they visit or practically everywhere they turn. 

They also attend branded parties, buy advertised products, and participate in office “bracket pools.” This gets advertisers excited by the prospect of reaching a much larger, highly-engaged audience of fans and non-fans alike – enabling them to leverage their marketing investment.

This year, more than ever, brands are going to take full advantage of the March Madness opportunity. And for good reason.

Fan demographics are hugely favorable, for instance, because they rely so heavily on college alumni. Engagement is high, with millions of Americans filling out tournament brackets even if they don't know a thing about college basketball. And with 68 teams in the hunt for a championship, at least at the beginning, there are that many more people and markets that might be enthusiastic about the tourney than about the two-team Super Bowl.

Given that we spend all our waking hours thinking about online video and the online video advertising market, we are paying close attention to the brands/marketers advertising via CBS-Turner’s March Madness video streaming.

Not surprisingly, the roster of advertisers/brands are top notch, including Capital One, Outback Steakhouse, Lexus, Acura, Northwestern Mutual, LG, and Coke Zero.

In fact, Coke Zero’s sponsorship is an innovative and ideal digital video execution. At the bottom of the March Madness digital video player, the Coke Zero Moments button allows a fan to go back and look at key plays of the game they’re currently watching. Inventive and a great intersection of technology and branding that will certainly lead to brand recall for college hoops fans.

1 comment about "March Madness Or Marketing Madness? Why NCAA Tournament Is Holy Grail of Marketing".
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  1. Andrew Giangola from New York, NY, March 28, 2013 at 12:43 p.m.

    Great stuff.

    One thing - The information on March Madness being the second most popular post-season behind the NFL playoffs is outdated. College hoops is now #1. Ad revenues for the NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Tournament have surpassed $1 billion, making March Madness the largest post-season sports franchise among all sports, according to Kantar Media.

    Everyone please be safe during this time of the year. It's important to ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for March Madness.

    Andrew Giangola
    VP, Strategic Communications
    IMG College

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