By examining the NCAA’s strategies and implementations, marketers can perhaps borrow ideas to improve the success of their organisations.
The NCAA started this tournament in 1939 at an old gym at Northwestern University with 8 teams and little media coverage since TV was in its infancy. Today, the competition has grown to 68 teams over 3 weeks competing in regional tournaments and culminating in a final contest between the top two. This year the contest will include 67 games that can be watched live, streamed online, or viewed later.
Amazingly, March Madness has grown into the second most popular sports showcase for advertisers behind the NFL playoffs and ahead of the NBA and Major League Baseball post-season contests. According to Kantar Media, the NCAA was able to parlay this popularity into a TV rights agreement worth $10.8 billion over 14 years. How did they do it?
Branding the tournament and playoffs
With a penchant for alliteration, the NCAA has created brand identities for the entire tournament and interim playoffs by giving them names such as March Madness, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four. Even non-fans hear these words from sportscasters, late-night TV hosts and comedians.
They pass them on to their friends via word-of-mouth and social media. They also attend branded parties, buy advertised products, and participate in office “bracket pools.” This gets advertisers excited by the prospect of reaching a much larger, highly-engaged audience of fans and non-fans alike – enabling them to leverage their marketing investment.
Expanding media coverage
Media coverage has grown to four television networks (CBS, TNT, TBS, and TruTV) and numerous radio and online channels, such as, cbssports.com, ncaa.com, espn.com, and si.com – enabling fans to watch the games and interact with each other on their mobile devices. The NCAA also created March Madness on Demand (MMOD), which is now called March Madness Live (MML), an online HDTV channel that is completely advertiser supported. Last year, the MMOD service had 52 million visits across broadband and mobile platforms accounting for 13.7 million hours of streaming video and a 63% increase in traffic over the previous year.
Promoting the NCAA brand through online and social media
In addition to traditional TV and radio channels, historical content and commentary are distributed online through favoured fan sites, such as Yahoo!, CBS, and ESPN, and MML. Everyone involved with the tournament also communicates via popular social media sites.
- Facebook. March Madness has a Facebook fan page with over 230,000 fans and “like” links to such other sites as NCAA (72,887 fans), iHoops (268,581), and CBS Sports (83,577 fans). Each of these, in turn has their own like links leading to additional Facebook word-of-mouth pyramids.
- Twitter. The tournament is a major trend on Twitter with its own pyramid of followers. The ESPN Tournament of Tweets is very popular with sports fans. Last year it logged nearly 3 million tweets.
- YouTube. At the time of this writing, search results for March Madness yielded 316,000 results, and the tournament has not even started! People can watch videos of games they missed or make their own commentary videos that help to further promote the brand.
What organisations can learn from March Madness Marketing
By examining the marketing techniques used by the NCAA, marketers can perhaps learn how to better do the following:
- Create names, slogans and logos that are easy to remember. If they are, people will broadcast them for you and further your brand reach, frequency, and engagement.
- Apply branding and promotion techniques employed by March Madness.
- Create contests and games as an effective way to teach prospects and customers the benefits of your products while they have fun competing for prizes.
- Generate newsworthy events that capture the imagination of the news media so they will promote them for you at no charge. Nike is perhaps one of the best examples of using the news media as part of their marketing strategies.
- Provide traditional and social media with the information they need to publicize your products and events for free.
- Tie-in with events such as March Madness to leverage your brand and promotion.
The NCAA has achieved a slam-dunk
Even though the NCAA is a non-profit organisation that many would not associate with brilliant marketing, they have done an enviable job of taking the March Madness Tournament and turning into one of the most popular sports showcases for advertisers – ahead of the NBA (National Basketball Association) and Major League Baseball. If you think about it, that is incredible. In basketball parlance, it’s a slam-dunk.
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