Twitter shakes up Selection Sunday: #Leaked Bracket

For anyone who might not know, the biggest basketball tournament of the year is right around the corner, March Madness! I for one am very excited for the games to begin; however, what I was not excited about was Sunday’s bracket announcement show that revealed which teams would be playing each other in the first-round of action. Although I was extremely excited about the bracket coming out, I was not looking forward to having to sit around for 2 HOURS until all the teams were revealed. Enter the hero of my day: Twitter.

CBS has been hosting NCAA Selection Show since before most of us were born. It started out as a 30-minute show where the announcers would just inform its audience of the bracket layout. Then around 25 years ago, it was expanded to an hour-long format. This allowed for some reactions and analysis to be brought in by the broadcasters while keeping the show to a reasonable length. This year was the first year that the NCAA Selection Show was expanded to two hours, and the reaction was largely negative. It also changed its format from previous years; in the past, the bracket was released and analysis of the bracket followed. This year, a quarter of the bracket was released and analysis would follow before the release of the next quarter. Although some people enjoyed the longer format, the large majority of people believed that the show was unnecessarily long. Obviously, there are clear financial motives behind expanding the show to be as long as possible, but the reaction from the audience was not positive. The show had its lowest Nielsen Rating (“viewership rating”) since 1995 and it couldn’t edge out a “Little Big Shots” re-run for Sunday’s most viewed program at 7:00. This set the stage for Twitter to absolutely shock (and please) most of the audience.

pic_TV Ratings

About 45 minutes into the 2-hour ordeal, an anonymous source tweeted out a picture of the bracket with the caption “Spoiler Alert: Leaked Bracket” (the twitter account was made private hours later). The tweet took Twitter by storm with #LeakedBracket peaking at over 100 mentions/minute.     The pace at which this bracket spread from the source was incredible. The bracket reached St. Mary’s College of California, a team on the “bubble” waiting to see if they qualified for the tournament, over a half an hour before they were scheduled to find out on live TV. The team knew that they weren’t going to make the tournament well before they were supposed to, which has been argued as being good or bad for those players. It took around 40 minutes for one tweet (believed to have originated in the Kansas area) to become instantly viral, and spread as far West as the Coastal region of California (and probably farther).


A similar story occurred for Mike Brey, Head Coach at Notre Dame, who said that his son texted him a picture of the bracket a half hour before he was supposed to know the identity of his first-round opponent. Seton Hall’s Head Coach, Kevin Willard, had already sent someone on his staff to download all available tapes of Gonzaga, their first-round opponent, before their name was announced on CBS. As a team’s seeding was announced on CBS, the team was shown on live TV, usually in an auditorium with hundreds of fans. In the beginning, teams were jumping out of their seats in joy, yelling in celebration with their fans. Towards the end, it was clear that some celebrations were “for show”, as they had found out about their position some time before, and had probably already celebrated. A couple teams elected not to celebrate at all, which I found particularly funny (at the expense of CBS).

Clearly there are many views of this “spoiler.” There are people who are happy that they were able to instantly see the bracket without watching the show at all. There are people like me who enjoy the Selection Show, but were unwilling to spend two hours watching, and stopped after the “leak.” And there were people who thought the leaked bracket ruined the whole experience of Selection Sunday. Regardless of your stance on the events, I think the #LeakedBracket, which will be a case-study in the near future, has some key takeaways relating to social media.

The first key takeaway from this leak is the supreme importance that security is playing in our modern society. In this age of social media, keeping a secret really is “easier said than done,” and I think this is an excellent example of this. On ESPN, an analyst sarcastically said that next year, the bracket is going to have to be protected to the extent that Oscar announcements are, with a full security detail. Although this was an off-the-cuff comment, it’s not that far off-base in light of recent events. Today’s society requires us to keep private information as secure as possible, as it is becoming drastically easier to rapidly spread information over the Internet through social media.

The final takeaway I had was about Twitter. Wow! Twitter is fast. It took just under 45 minutes for this tweet to blow-up on Twitter, spread a 100% accurate bracket with everyone around the nation, and ultimately cost CBS millions of dollars in lost advertising revenues (probably). For all the grief that Twitter has gotten over this past year about not being able to monetize its network, I think the pure speed at which it can disseminate information is one of the reasons why it will always be a viable entity, in one form or another.







  1. Interesting post! I don’t think you’re wrong at all that the security of the bracket will have to be ramped up in future years. I see either CBS investing in higher protection of the bracket, or them perhaps even taking their show off the air in future years because the cost of keeping it all a secret is too high and too difficult compared to the revenue they are getting in from advertisers. But this obviously has larger ramifications for CBS, who are also televising a large chunk of the tournament games under their family of networks.

  2. Great post Justin. When I first heard about the bracket leak I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was. While this may be a clear indicator that people don’t want to waste time watching a two hour selection show, I’m sure you’re right that CBS will take an alternative view and increase their security surrounding the bracket instead of just shortening the show. I remember reading several articles in which players and coaches saw the leaked bracket but were unsure as to whether it was accurate, I’m surprised you found so many examples of people clearly trusting it enough to buy tickets or even begin preparing for their supposed opponent. I agree with your final assessment, although Twitter may be overvalued; it will always be around in some form or another. It’s power in instances like this is just too great.

  3. Great post Justin. I think that this is a very good example of how quickly social media can spread information. It is amazing that within twenty minutes or so the leaked bracket was every where in America. I for one am very happy it leaked. It was painful to watch them slowly reveal the bracket. At one point they sent Charles Barkley up to the touch screen and he could not figure out how to work it for 10 minutes which was necessary to make that show drag out for 2 full hours. I think the leaked bracket and low rankings will hopefully send CBS back to the drawing board for the selection show next year.

  4. I tweeted about this and was really hoping someone would do a blog on it, so first off thanks for that! I loved the numbers/stats presented in this blog along with the videos because I didn’t follow along too much, but this sums up everything I need to know. In terms of your insights, security is definitely a major issue in today’s world. I doubt they would go to the extent of other major awards shows, but I could see it being ramped up in future years. I also think they need to shorten back the show to an hour (or even 30 minutes) because people feel like they have less time nowadays than ever. I sort of doubt your point; however, that CBS lost out on advertising. They probably had everything booked already and I don’t think this would deter advertisers from promoting themselves in the future.

  5. interesting read. I remember hearing about this and thinking “who really cares?” and it turns out a lot of people do. Sports fans can get really freaky, and the internet lets them take their fandom to the next level. And i am actually gonna side with Jak on this one. I do not think CBS will be taking much of a hit from this one. Live and Learn,

  6. Great post!! I had no idea about the leaked bracket and reading this article was really enjoyable. I think you bring a great point of how the show being extended was about financial reasons and how two hours is a long time for finding out if you’re in or if who you are playing. One of my favorite parts of reading your post was seeing the screenshots of data and tweets that highlighted the ripple effects of having the bracket leaked! I think it’s amazing how many effects of having a bracket out early can do from early flight bookings to getting an edge in the film room. Awesome post!

  7. Cool example. Mark my words, next year there will be at least one fake leak at about the same time to see if it can go viral. It will, of course, be wrong which will lead to a whole host of other consequences.

  8. Great stuff Justin! Reading your chronology helped frame the leak much more accurately for me. Your takeaways were on-point, and I do also agree with some of the above comments which stated how CBS didn’t take that big of a hit. I think the bottom line with the viewership is that people don’t want to watch the two-hour ordeal. CBS, if anything, should change the format of the show to reflect this kind of occurrence. There’s no reason basketball fans shouldn’t be excited to watch it, in my opinion. Awesome!

  9. I’m really glad someone posted about this and you did a great job incorporating images of tweets, charts showing mentions per minutes, and television views. I completely agree with you that the format of the bracket release this year was certainly lacking compared to previous years. I tune into selection Sunday every year, and found that it was way too drawn out, so in this sense I’m glad the bracket was leaked early. However, I personally think one of the best parts of the day is seeing the players and coaches of each team gathered together awaiting the news of who their first round match-up will be against, or in the case of bubble teams, if they will even get into the tournament. That was the major negative of the leak to me, but many viewers who are not associated with the teams will properly argue that the positives outweigh the negatives. Regardless, this is an excellent example of how quickly and efficiently information can be shared on Twitter.

  10. Justin, this was pretty cool! Once I saw the bracket leak, I knew word would spread like wildfire. With the biggest, most controversial tournament of the year up to ruin friendships and drain wallets, whoever posted it knew exactly what they were doing. But to be real, a lot of people who follow college basketball are not really into watching a 2 hour show when the producers know who as been selected the whole time. There’s no drama really, it’s not American Idol. It’s March Madness, and the drama comes along at the first game’s tip-off.

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