More than just players score at March Madness

The Blue Devils aren’t the only ones who came out of March Madness a winner – so did advertisers. America’s appetite for basketball drama has consistently led the NCAA Tournament to rank as one of the largest sporting events in the world. For nearly three weeks, channels, eyes, and hopeful hearts are tuned to the court – a viewership opportunity that brands simply cannot pass up. With millions available at their threshold, March Madness has turned into a magnet, not just of athleticism, but of commercialization and the lucrative benefits that surround sports marketing.

March Madness easily showcases how stadiums act both as court and stage. A week before the tournament even started, advertisers had snatched up more than 95% of ad space in TV broadcasts and the March Madness live stream. Just as with any supply and demand model, the craze for ad space has left the cost for such a captive audience with a hefty price tag. The going rate for a 30 second spot for Monday night’s title game was $1.5 million and trends indicate numbers are only expected to rise.

For the past 10 years advertising has increased at an average rate of 8.21% each year – an increase that correlates with big bucks. Since 2005 the annual NCAA Tournament has generated approximately $7.5 billion in television advertising, last year alone accounted for $1.13 billion.

The NCAA has monetized the sporting event in a platform for corporate sponsors to reap benefits from advertising and promotional programs anchored around the games. “March Madness has evolved into Marketing Madness,” said Jon Swallen, Chief Research Officer at Kantar Media.

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With the hoops hysteria not only continuing, each year, but also growing, many marketing professionals claim that March Madness is actually more of a giant than the heralded Super Bowl. Not just monetarily but increasingly creatively as well.

Turner Broadcasting System President David Levy explains how advertisers and sponsors looking to optimize their presence in the spotlight are starting to tailor creative specifically for the tournament, “It’s like we’ve been seeing for years with the Super Bowl, where everyone wants to roll out a new ad when they know everyone’s watching.”

From an advertising standpoint, rather than the competitiveness that surrounds the single night event of the Super Bowl, March Madness offers a far more capitalizing environment that has multiple touch points stretched across 67 games.

Over the past few years, technology has been a major benefactor is accessing such touch points.

First, regarding television, there’s a proliferation of opportunities says, Jeff Stamp of Grey Group. “Instead of just local rounds being covered by local channels, there’s now the new model where you get to see all the games early on. That’s doubling and tripling the opportunities for early round advertising.”

This year CBS and Turner Broadcasting showed every game live on CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV. In addition, tournament games were also streamed live on multiple websites and the NCAA’s own app, leading to Stamp’s second point – opportunities garnered from audiences increased usage of second and third screens. “People are watching their main game on television, they’re streaming another live on their tablet, and then tweeting, texting, and posting about the games simultaneously. We’re talking about three more opportunities for advertisers to be involved and relevant,” says Stamp.

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Of the 201 brands who invested in the playoff opportunities, their efforts were well worth it. This year’s tournament set records with the highest viewership in 22 years, averaging about 11.3 million total viewers. The tournament’s title game also set records as 28.3 million tuned into watch Duke v. Wisconsin.

Furthermore, data also proved online mediums to be a powerful outlet. NCAA March Madness Live, the tournament’s streaming app, generated 80.7 million live video streams during the playoffs, and 3.4 million the night of the championship.

And while the night of the championship Duke was pitted against Wisconsin, a Chicago based company, 4C Insights pitted Nationwide against AT&T in their own battle of the brand bracket. Following the standard bracket model, 4C Insights replaced teams with brands and analyzed March Madness advertisers during the entire NCAA tournament, focusing on which companies got the biggest brand lifts through social media engagement – Twitter retweets and favorites, and Facebook likes, video views, and shares. Only one can come out on top, and according to them, this year it was AT&T.

Other companies agree, iSpot.tv says that the telecomm company generated the top digital response during the tournament, both overall as a company and with in individual ad impact with their video ad “Strong Nickname” which ranked number one when analyzing digital SOV – “share of voice determined by percentage of spend or digital activity compared to NCAA advertisers.”

Producing digital activity has been frequently shown as key for garnering brand reach and interaction, but is especially relevant in major sports marketing events such as March Madness. This year, March Madness had 350 million impressions across Facebook and Twitter — a 45% increase over 2014. And while numbers from this year are still being crunched, data from 2014 shows that the NCAA reported 7.7 million social media comments were made about the tournament, and that there were 1.5 billion online conversation about corporate partners last year.

But even if you aren’t a corporate giant like AT&T, car companies, or beverage companies, there are still ways to leverage your company or campaign into the hype. The following suggestions come from Jill Waldman in her article on how March Madness can be “A Slam Dunk for Advertisers”.

Think digitally. As mentioned earlier, audiences are simultaneously dividing their attention with second and third screens – from streaming games online, to participating in online brackets, or simply looking up scores, there are thousands of ways to reach people online with targeted digital ad buying.

Get social. With millions of social media comments being registered about individuals games as well as the tournament in whole, it’s easy to organically grow your social media following and presence simple by joining the conversation using relevant hash tags.

Show team spirit. This option is accessible for nearly any type of business. Create your own bracket contest, host a viewing party for local teams, offer discounts for an underdog upset, or create a themed menu.

Did you watch any of the March Madness games? Which outlet did you use the most – television, online streaming, mobile updates, or all three? What advertisers resonated with you the most? Did you participate in any promotions affiliated with the tournament? Where do you think the bidding for ad space will start next year? Let us know in a comment below.

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– Savannah Valade

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