Is March Madness the Next Super Bowl for Marketers?

As many of you know, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament kicked off earlier today, bringing 64 universities together from across the country for one common goal: to cut down the nets and hoist the championship trophy.  However, the implications on business and marketing go way beyond the hardwood.  Most people aren’t aware that March Madness has become one of the most popular platform in sports for advertisers, even surpassing the playoffs of major sports such as football, basketball, and baseball.  According to the Huffington Post, the NCAA has been able to translate this popularity into a 14 year, $10.8 billion television contract with CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV.  This year also aims to offer the most seamless digital experience in history, allowing fans to stream every single game live on their laptops and mobile devices through either ncaa.com or cbssports.com.

The effects on social and digital marketing caused by this immense popularity are huge.  The March Madness page on Facebook has over 909,000 fans, and more than 452,000 followers on Twitter.  Also, before the tournament even kicked off, March Madness had 787,000 searches on YouTube.  Each of these platforms present an excellent opportunity for companies to market their products and services in high-traffic advertising slots.

According to Akamai, a web technology firm, five of the ten busiest peak minutes of internet traffic ever were related to social and digital marketing in connection to the NCAA tournament.

Coke Zero has sponsored a “Brain Bracket,” which asks fans to vote online and submit their best ideas to improve the tournament.  Linda Cronin, director of interactive media, says the company is “empowering fans to shake up the status quo in college basketball.”

MillerCoors released the mobile app “Tip ‘n Spin” right before the NCAA tournament several years ago, in conjunction with its March Hoops marketing campaign, in an effort to boost daily interaction with consumers.

Applebee’s offered $1 million to a fan who picks the winner of every tournament game via its Facebook page.

Papa John’s offered a $2,000 shopping spree and free pizza for an entire year for up to five winners of its In The House Hoops Sweepstakes.

Lastly, Captain Morgan offered a free trip to Las Vegas by entering a sweepstakes on its Facebook page, which it advertised through nationally televised NCAA tournament games.

The reasoning behind why the NCAA tournament is such a brilliant social and digital marketing opportunity has a very logical explanation.  There are 64 teams (68 if you include the play in game) competing for the championship.  This draws a fan base from nearly every state in America, which provides a diverse, yet very large audience for companies to target in their advertisements.  In comparison, a playoff game in any other sports has only two fan bases watching religiously, and while there are naturally plenty of others watching because they are nationally televised, it still offers a much narrower target audience.

As a result of the massive audience, giant corporations have lined up to sponsor the 2016 NCAA tournament.  The list includes Capital One, AT&T, Coca-Cola, All State, Amazon, Buffalo Wild Wings, Reese’s, LG, Lowe’s, and numerous others.

 

With the advancements in technology and the addition of methods to access sports and watch NCAA tournament games, the number of companies choosing to market and advertise during this time of year, and the overall amount of money invested will continue to grow exponentially in the coming years.

8 comments

  1. I think you make some really great points about why marketing for the NCAA tournament has become so huge in scale. I think another attraction to advertisers is the fact that the tournament is over many days whereas the Superbowl is obviously a one day event. The diversity and number of people ads reach is huge, so companies would be crazy not to take advantage. If there continues to be all these upsets year after year, I can see the tournament even growing in popularity. I think it’s a gold mine! Thanks for the blog post.

  2. Great post! I think an additional reason why the NCAA tournament is such a valuable stage for marketing is that even when fans’ favorite teams are eliminated, they are still going to continue watching because people have such strong ties to their playoff brackets. People cheer for the team they love to see win, but they also cheer for all the teams that they have previously selected as the winners of individual games. That being said, it would be interesting to see the numbers on the participation in playoff practices by sport.

  3. I really liked this post, especially because this is the first year I have gotten into the March Madness “madness.” You brought up really insightful ideas around advertising/technology and the future of the tournament, and I agree that this could surpass other sports in terms of popularity dollars spent by companies. I liked your point about why the tournament would attract more people than another event such as the Superbowl, and I would imagine that companies will start to pay even more attention to the NCAA tournament in the upcoming years. It would be smart for a company to spend its marketing/advertising dollars on the tournament versus the Superbowl because the tournament has a longer timeline, which could help to create more lasting impressions in consumers’ minds. With the Superbowl, you spend millions of dollars for 30 seconds of airtime, you could take that same money and instead get more coverage throughout a longer period of time. Really enjoyed reading this and I’ll continue to follow the games, hoping my bracket is the winner! :)

  4. Awesome post! I think all sports are sort of the next frontier for digital advertising. It was great to see some of the numbers behind recent March Madness campaigns. I think this trend will only continue as marketers get better on capitalizing on the organic conversations people are having online about sports since they tend to focus on time-bound events that everyone is interested in at the same time, and as you point out, the geographic reach of March Madness is only going to intensify this conversation.

  5. Great post! I have a bracket, so I’m totally riding the wave! This tournament is always a great selling point for advertisers, and it’s only getting larger as the years press on. The consumer reach is huge because people who aren’t even avid sports fans have caught on, and that is a big deal. More companies would be wise to get in on the action for greater exposure to marketing and advertising opportunities.

  6. I think saying it’s the next Super Bowl is hyperbole, but there is some merit to it. I had no idea how much the TV contract was worth and it being for such a long span of time. Also companies offering $1 million or any sum of money is basically getting free advertising because it is such a longshot to pick a perfect bracket. I think you have something like 5x better odds to win the powerball jackpot than getting one. Regardless, all the hype surrounding it doesn’t deter people, which is ultimately huge for companies.

  7. Cool topic and well done! I agree that there’s huge potential with March Madness – especially since it goes on for so much longer than the Super Bowl. The brackets make it an interactive experience and social allows people to connect with friends all over to compete. In terms of advertising and brands, it makes sense for them to capitalize when appropriate. This is a big topic in social, so if their brand and goals align with this audience about this topic, then they should go for it. I also think you bring up an interesting point about the college social presences. From a recruiting standpoint, schools should totally take advantage of March Madness. I know that I was excited to go to Syracuse for undergrad in part because of their men’s basketball program.

  8. ajsalcetti · ·

    Well done and timely. I agree with your comment on the fact that it is 64 (or 68) teams competing, not just 2 in a specific NFL playoff game, so it draws lots of fans from all parts of the country. I also think that unlike professional sports, the casual fan will watch just for that “Cinderella” story and to watch David beat Goliath. These are huge draws when you factor all the games being played, across 4 channels, across a full month. While other sports may have their playoffs over a 2 month span, the obsessive and high volume nature of NCAA all condensed in 3 weeks makes it a goldmine for companies that can find a way to monetize that passion and interest in a short period.

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