March Madness is one of the USA’s most valuable sports properties: an estimated 185 million people tune into March Madness through the tournament and with that kind of passionate fan base it is little wonder then that it generates cumulative ad spend worth $1.25bn.
The 2017 NCAA Division 1 Men’s College Basketball Championships, which kicked off on 14 March, has already generated an avalanche of hoops-themed creative campaigns and sponsorship activation much of which, despite its core AB1 college educated audience, can be best described as ‘Marketing Madness’ or ‘March Mayhem’.
Despite last year’s worrying 37% drop in audience TV ratings, 2016’s final game still drew an average audience of 17.8 million viewers (a major drop from 2015’s 28.3 million) and a further 3.4 million streams started on the NCAA’s March Madness Live portal, there is plenty of confidence around this year’s tournament and plenty of activation too.
This commercial confidence may partly be due to the fact that the drop was expected by most people in the industry as the 2016 title game didn’t air on a broadcast network, but on Turner networks TBS, TNT and truTV cable trio and partly due to the fact that the ratings for 2015’s title game shattered all previous records and were up 33% on 2014’s final.
This behemoth of the college sports landscape is illustrated by the NCAA netting $10.8bn in revenue through its 14-year agreement (signed in 2010) with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting for rights to the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.
Bracket Fever & Social Media
Americans are, of course, once again going ‘college hoops bracket crazy’ again as the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament tips-off.
According to ESPN, past year’s tournament saw a record 13 million Americans submit brackets.
Little wonder then that the 2017 competition sees another army of brands – from official NCAA partners (like Infiniti’s #Unbustable Hardwood Heroes CSR campaign – see case study) and (such as Wendy’s), to media giants and broadcasters – are compete amongst themselves to top the bracket-based campaign table.
According to Yahoo, the number one web search term in the week prior to the 2016 tournament was ‘March Madness 2016 Bracket’.
Little wonder then that so many brands capitalise on this either by building their own bracket-led campaign, or via related display advertising and useful bracket-building information and related informative content.
This is especially relevant o the social space – where so many brackets are built and so much march madness related content consumed.
Little wonder then that, tipping-off on Selection Sunday, fast food restaurant chain and official hamburger of the NCAA Wendy’s is launching its own brand March Madness bracket campaign entirely on Twitter.
The fast food chain is inviting fans to take part in March Madness by filling out the one-of-a-kind #WendysBracket – the self-proclaimed first-ever bracket builder on Twitter.
The integration with the micro blogging social platform offers NCAA basketball fans a few ways to create their brackets – via @Wendys Twitter Direct Message and on its core Twitter account.
One route is to have Wendy’s automatically generate a bracket via a personality quiz (well, it’s a million-to-one shot anyone’s carefully created bracket remains intact through the whole competition, so why not?), while another is for fans to select just the Final Four teams and Wendy’s will fill in the remaining games.
But for those die-hard college basketball aficionados committed to follow the more traditional, yet fruitless route, you can still select the winners off all 63 NCAA Tournament games if you so choose
— ᴄʀᴀɪɢ ᴇʟɪᴍᴇʟɪᴀʜ (@CraigElimeliah) March 9, 2017
Throughout the #WendysBracket challenge, the brand will roll out social scoring updates, product giveaways and other prizes for participating players.
The Twitter brackets’ initiative is also supported by the annual Wendy’s #WoodenAward for best individual player,
— Wendy's (@Wendys) March 9, 2017
Social media, as with most major sports events these days, is a crucial real-time engagement platform.
While March Madness fans are watching games on TV (on CBS and across Turner Sports’ three cable stations – TBS, TNT and truTV), inevitably they are multi-taking too.
Last year, while an average of 17.8 million watched the title game on TBS, TNT and truTV, there were 56 million combined impressions generated on Twitter and Facebook during the National Championship game in which Villanova defeated North Carolina.
Considering Twitter’s self-confessed aim to become a home base, go-to platform for sports fans, it clearly makes some sense for the company to tie-up with an official partner.
While deals like this won’t do much to shift the social media site’s stagnant user growth, it certainly makes sense to capitalize on the fact so many of its existing users are already using the platform to engage with March Madness.
It’s not only about social of course.
Wendy’s is also sending a branded food truck on a college campus tour around the USA’s and to tournament-relevant sites to give away (official NCAA) burgers and other freebies as part of its sponsorship.
This ‘Drive to the Final Four’ is a three-week long road trip celebrating ‘NCAA fans’ dedication to going great lengths and going the extra mile for what you love’
Kicking off on Selection Sunday, 12 March, and ending on Final Four Weekend in Phoenix, 31 March- 3 April, the road trip will stop at three college campuses (Xavier University, Butler University and University of Louisville) and at the first and second round tournament in Indianapolis, the Midwest regional tournament in Kansas City and the Final Four Championship Tournament.
At each stop, Wendy’s Food Truck will serve up free samples of ‘fresh, never frozen’ cheeseburgers and fans will have a chance to win ‘Unreasonable Upgrades’ (such as gift cards and upgraded game tickets for regional tournaments).
They can also test their basketball skills in fresh experiences like the Tip-Off Tailgate event in Phoenix or show-off their game winning shot on their social media channels with the Wendy’s ‘Don’t Get Frozen in the Moment’ slow motion photo opp.
The trip (and its social feed) will also include Jay Bilas (American college basketball analyst for ESPN) and YouTube stars like King Bach guiding fans through each stop and sharing their thoughts on the competition.
The brand hopes fans will follow the tournament as it unfolds on Wendy’s social spaces – specifically on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Of course, Wendy’s is also linking this ‘Drive to the Final Four’ road trip to its social channels ‘for those fans that can’t experience the fun in person’ using the hashtag #Drive2theFinal4 to chronicle the journey road trip on its social platforms.
Tournament interest is so crazy and intense that sponsor Dove Men +Care has launched a fan manifesto to change fan behaviour and support good sportsmanship (see case study).
This level of craziness during March Madness also typically drives marketing madness and this year partner Pizza Hut has cooked up hi-tech basketball sneakers that enable the wearer to order by pressing a button on the tongue (see case study).
Pizza Hut will hope that its silly, but striking shoe stunt will help its own competition among food brands benefitting from the tournament.
The data shows its category needs a bit of a boost.
Yahoo data reveals that food-ordering basketball fans prefer wings over pizza: through the 2016 tournament, wing orders were 24% higher than during the same number of days prior while pizza orders were 17% higher.
Its focus online seems a clever tactic too.
As, rather than searching for specific brands, Yahoo data shows the top two queries for pizza on the day of the tournament were ‘order pizza’ and ‘order pizza online’.
This offers an opportunity for brands to increase search advertising and drive higher online orders.
Oddly, it seems like pizza might be the choice of losers.
Sales of pizza go up significantly – 19% – among fans of teams that have lost their March Madness games.
If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them!
The stars might be amateur student ballers, but this blockbuster property is so powerful even the elite pro game activates around it. In true ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ style, the mighty NBA has even launched the latest iteration of its ongoing ‘The Dance Never Ends’ campaign supporting March Madness.
As the eyes of the basketball world (well, in North America) once again turn to March Madness and the NCAA Tournament, even the NBA leverages the property and tries to connect with college hoops fans via new executions in its continuing ‘Dance Never Ends’ college hoops campaign.
This 2017 initiative, launched a week ahead of final selection on 6 March, is spearheaded by a set of four spots highlighting the college careers of current NBA players.
Former Wake Forest star and now LA Clippers guard Chris Paul features in a spot showcasing ‘how Paul’s fiery, explosive college spirit continues to burn bright in the NBA’.
‘Jimmy Butler: The Dance Never Ends’ tells the story of how Butler’s unstoppable college spirit at Marquett has propels him to new heights in the NBA as the franchise player at the Chicago Bulls.
It claims to offer ‘an insight into Jimmy’s heart, and a view into the Marquette University spirit that flows through his every move’.
While the video focusing on University of Connecticut’s Kemba Walker is built on a message of determination and inspiration and offers ‘a glimpse into his undying passion for the game, and a window into the UConn school spirit he carries into battle’.
And Gordon Hayward of Butler’s film tells the story of how Hayward’s tough college spirit continues to drive him forward in the NBA. It is a window into his heart, and a glimpse into the unique Butler school spirit….’ you get the idea.