NCAA March Madness: A Digital Marketing Dream

Mar 12, 2018by admin

Picture this: workers in offices all across the United States are distracted by something on their computers, mobile phones, and televisions. Yes, we know what you are thinking: this occurs every day. However, one annual celebration brings our obsession with technology to a whole new level. Groundhog Day? Nope. Cinco de Mayo? Try again. International Carrot Day? Not quite.

The answer is the NCAA Basketball Tournament, or as we lovingly call it, March Madness. Every March, 68 Division I basketball teams come together on a single bracket with the same dream of advancing to the Final Four and winning a national championship. Overnight, seemingly every sports-themed television channel starts broadcasting game after game to the joy of fans who sneakily watch on their laptops at work.

Therein lies the dramatic transformation occurring right before our eyes when it comes to watching sports. The massive growth of streaming services and digital platforms has led us to spend less time on our couches watching TV and more time catching the big game on other devices on-the-go. Click To Tweet Naturally, brands and sponsors have realized this consumer trend. In response, they are relying on digital marketing strategies more and more to garner the attention of their target audiences especially in the sports and entertainment arena.

NCAA March Madness in particular presents an interesting and unique case in the digital marketing sphere. CBS and Turner Sports, the main network duo that annually broadcasts the tournament, has fully embraced the concept of maintaining a constant free streaming service for fans to watch live games anywhere. Jeff Baumgartner of Multichannel News reported in an article this week that a record-breaking 16 different platforms, including iOS and Android mobile devices, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and Xbox One, will present live streams of March Madness this year.

From the perspective of sponsors seeking maximum brand exposure to wide audiences, the first four major days of March Madness, this year falling between March 15th and 18th, deliver the jackpot. There will be a lengthy opportunity for sponsors to showcase themselves to millions of viewers taking in a packed schedule of live games one after another. Brands such as AT&T, Capital One, Reese’s, and Coca-Cola enjoy an array of digitally focused marketing opportunities to not only connect with fans but also contribute to the entire March Madness experience. These opportunities, however, come at a steep price. Sponsors’ total spending on national TV spots throughout the 2016 edition of the tournament exceeded $1.2 billion and that figure continues to grow between 2% and 5% every year. Of course, those ads are now shown via online streams as well which has only increased sponsors’ interest and urgency to showcase themselves during March Madness.

Simply put, digital marketing was invented in response to our unending reliance on technology to stay updated on everything all of the time. Click To Tweet Studies consistently report that the average consumer is exposed to around 10,000 branded messages a day with a strong majority stemming from digital sources. Those same studies conclude that we only maintain an attention span of eight seconds today because we have been conditioned to alternate between our mobile phone, laptop, desktop, and television screens continuously throughout a typical day.

Advertisers who activate during NCAA March Madness surely understand the limited time they have to not only gather audiences’ attention but also maintain it for a 10-30 second period. This challenge has led sponsors to become more creative in how they mold themselves into the full March Madness experience as the goal is to remain as organic as possible.

NCAA March Madness is expected to be a wide-open tournament with many teams considered to be in the running for the title. Close matchups through each round will only build up the hype of March Madness and in turn boost the potential ROI for sponsors activating during TV broadcasts and streams.

Although many sponsors still use traditional marketing techniques in the world of sports and entertainment, digital marketing has risen to become crucially important to any marketing plan revolving around an event, team, or league. The future continues to shine bright for March Madness sponsors buying in to digital marketing, and spending will only increase from year-to-year as valuable air time attracts even more competition.


Data Sources:

“NCAA March Madness to Reach 16 Platforms”, Multichannel News, Jeff Baumgartner, 2018.

“March Madness 2017 By The Numbers”, Kantar Media, Jon Swallen, 2017.

“Why Your Customers’ Attention is the Scarcest Resource in 2017”, American Marketing Association, Joshua Saxon, 2017.

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