It’s that time of year when NCAA March Madness takes over much of TV airwaves and the cultural conversation. Generally, marketers and advertisers gear their campaigns around the tournament to older fans—those who are of drinking age (for obvious reasons) and those who are in college or have an alma mater to cheer for. However, they are missing a key opportunity with teens who get immersed in the event.
Basketball has been growing in popularity with a new wave of great players establishing dynasties. At the NBA-level, the emergence of Golden State as a new West powerhouse and the Cleveland Cavaliers as a new East powerhouse has given fans plenty of eventful games and seemingly endless highlight reels to watch and share. As the NBA game and its players have risen to new levels, it’s driven greater interest in the sport overall, particularly among teens. Basketball is the second most common sport that teens aged 14 to 19 follow as fans (behind football), and it’s also the second most common sport they play (behind soccer), according to our findings. The spectacle of March Madness is a natural draw for Gen Zs who have a growing love of the sport.
A key to the popularity of March Madness is that it fits into young people’s lives and lifestyles. Running just three weeks, it doesn’t require the level of continual commitment of following an NBA season, for example, and connects with teens' often-discussed shorter attention spans. Even those who don’t tune into college basketball during the regular season can get swept up in the excitement around the high-paced game that offers no shortage of spectacular plays that are prime social feed fodder.
Games often include commentary around each team’s star players, such as their background and personal lives, as well as their playing style and potential futures in the sport, creating a story that goes well beyond the game and adds interest for casual fans. Likewise, filling out a bracket is among the easiest forms of fantasy sports, giving everyone something to root for—and with an estimated 70 million brackets completed, that amounts to more than 1 in 5 Americans with a stake in the outcome.
In addition, broadcasters offer free live streams, making it easy to tune in digitally on the go, unlike regular season games and other sports events that often require a subscription to access games on mobile devices. Opening up access is a smart tactic for reaching young viewers: teens can get into the “madness” and turn it into a key part of their cultural conversation for the month.
For teens who follow and play basketball, March Madness is a showcase of the next level of talent. Unlike the NBA that is stocked with standout stars, the NCAA tourney features players who are just a step up in terms of their talent level, showing teen players what they need to shoot for. The plethora of stats available during and after the game lets young hoopsters quantify what it takes to play at the college level. They can compare themselves to the stars of March Madness and, for some, realistically aspire to play on the same stage one day.
Reaching teens through March Madness presents a key opportunity for brands because not many are targeting this demographic specifically. When doing so, brands need to consider young people’s particular lifestyles and approach to sports culture. Brands should help them have better access to following the tournament and players. Consider ways to enable them share their love of the tournament with their friends and family. By connecting your brand with this annual event that teens are passionate about, they’ll begin to associate it with this exciting time that comes around each year and develop a favorable impression of those that help them engage more fully with March Madness.