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It’s the most wonderful time of the year for college basketball fans

That’s right, the NCAA basketball tournament is in full swing and the excitement is definitely in the air – or at least online. No longer do you and your coworkers have to huddle around the TV in the break room. Although the room does have its advantages in the vending machine department, more and more fans have not only chosen to fill out brackets online, but to watch and listen to the madness from the comfort of their computer or mobile device. In fact, half of all searches related to college basketball were on mobile last March and April. Since then, mobile share of these searches has continued to grow, reaching 60% in January 2015.2 Turner Broadcasting reported a total of 70 million live streams during last year’s tournament, and that’s not just on big screens. Turner stated that 45 million of those streams came from its mobile app, March Madness Live.



Don’t fret if this sounds like something you know all too well. You’re not the only employee sneaking the game’s live stream behind the privacy of your cubicle walls. Outplacement firm Challenger Grey & Christmas Inc. estimated American companies could expect to lose close to $2 billion in employer time during the tournament. That’s an average of 60 million Americans, spending 77.7 million man-hours filling out brackets and streaming live footage while at work. Just about everyone is getting involved to some capacity – including the President of the United States, who has Kentucky going all the way to its 2nd National Championship under John Calipari and a perfect season.

Big brands see huge marketing potential for the NCAA Tournament

Neilson Data estimated that last year some games pulled in more than 10 million viewers at peak. That’s nothing compared to the viewership during this year’s Super Bowl, but keep in mind that’s just from one of many games during the entirety of the tournament. So it’s no surprise that many large national brands are flocking to stamp their names all over March Madness. Last year, one of the most successful branding campaigns came from The Warren Buffet Perfect Bracket Challenge, which offered a lucky winner $1 billion for completing a perfect bracket.  Nobody won the challenge, funded in collaboration between Yahoo, Berkshire Hathaway, and Quicken Loans, but the campaign was a huge branding victory for the three brands.

This year, the challenge was dropped (sorry bracketologists), opening the door for other brands wanting to take advantage of this incredible marketing opportunity. And so far, brands from the automotive to financial industries have not disappointed. There is really no shortage of marketing possibilities for brands to attach their names alongside consumer driven trends like upset watch, Cinderella stories, Sweet 16 runs, the road to the Final Four, sleepers, and buzzer beaters. Before the tournament even started, brands like CapitalOne and AT&T began their sponsorship push as proud partners of March Madness and bracket challenges.

If live streaming video is up your alley, the “March Madness Live” broadcast is available – presented by AT&T, CapitalOne, Coca-Cola Zero. Or you can download the “March Madness Live” apps on your phone. Sponsorships vary depending on which operating system you use and are presented this year by Buick (for the App Store) and Infiniti (for Google Play) motor companies. Of course, there’s plenty of room for video advertising online. The NCAA has graciously created 1-minute videos breaking down various matchups to help make bracket decisions. Before each video, there are 15 second advertisements that you cannot skip – brought to you in part by Reese’s, Fiat, Dodge, and even the hit movie Fast and Furious.

Marketing is such a large part of the NCAA Tournament, but what does all this mean for the schools?

More than 90% of NCAA revenue goes to supporting over 1,100 schools and 450,000 student athletes. This revenue stream is an important factor in helping educate young adults and promoting a positive future.  Even schools that were snubbed on Selection Sunday benefit from the growth in popularity of the NCAA Tournament.

We sat down with Daniel Williams, Assistant Business Manager at Pepperdine University, to learn more. Williams expressed the importance of the tournament and explained the NCAA “Basketball Fund,” which allocates revenue distributed to each conference involved in tournament. There are 134 possible units up for grabs in each tournament (67 games x 2 teams per game), and for each game a team from a conference plays, the conference gets a “unit” of the distribution.  These units fund various conference events and even go in part toward strategic marketing allocations to increase the conference standing on the national stage. That’s why Williams says he “always roots for schools in his conference (WCC) to not only make the tournament, but play well.”

The NCAA Tournament is an exciting time for fans as well as schools on The Road to the Final Four: Presented by Reese’s. Like national brands, some schools are taking advantage of the national spotlight and are turning to new and exciting ways to build their own image. The University of North Carolina is no stranger to marketing their brand online through social networks. In the past, the Tar Heels Admissions Office have sent out #UNC19 decals to promote the schools presence on Twitter and anticipate #UNC and #UNCBBall to be two of the highest trending hashtags throughout the tournament.

The marketing opportunities are vast

Now the true test is if schools can take advantage of their time in the limelight. A marketing push during the tournament could lead to quality recruitment with prospective students and a bigger endowment from happy alumni. The digital environment has changed marketing the NCAA Tournament for the better, and big brand involvement has grown from David into Goliath. Before we know it, the big dance will end, but the marketing madness will continue long after the nets are cut down and the last verse of “One Shining Moment” is sung.


  1. “Investing Where It Matters.” NCAA Home Page. N.p., 18 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
  2. Google Data, January 2012–February 2015, United States.
  3. Gregory, Sean. “Here’s Who Is Winning March Madness in the Classroom.”Time. Time, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.



About the Author

Alex Navarro is a California-native who currently lives in Dallas, Texas with his fantastic wife. In the past, he’s been responsible for creating, developing and executing national brand awareness campaigns and has enjoyed developing personalized marketing and promotional plans. Alex studied advertising and marketing at Pepperdine University and has enjoyed working in the field ever since. He also loves meeting new people – connect with him on LinkedIn orTwitter.