Why March Madness is number one in the sports world for brands

One PR pro makes his case from on the ground in North Texas as to why the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is the best marketing opportunity in sports.

The old adage is we want to reach consumers where they live, work, and play. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and its Final Four weekend offer the opportunity to do all three via real-time and pre- and post-game content.

In fact, it may be the most unique opportunity in sports because consumers in attendance and at home have to lean on brands as a trusted resource to enhance their tournament experience.

Mark RiggsAs "March Madness" has grown, so too has the role of consumer public relations within an ever-evolving marketing mix aimed to inspire consumers to take the action a brand wants – and at the Final Four, they almost have no choice.

The tournament has all of the entertainment elements of a Super Bowl or Olympic Games with concerts and social activities in multiple cities, for example. Yet with the NCAA Tournament, you reach consumers at their desks, on the job site, and in the break room on that first Thursday of the tourney, as well as online via every social media platform you can think of and on-site. All the information you need is provided by sponsor brands.

The extended period of time for activation is unmatched with all the assets of major domestic and international sporting events, and more. There are a plethora of engagement points for NCAA corporate sponsors from the announcement of the field of 68, to the creation of the "First Four," to rebranding "March Madness" as "March Mayhem." There are also ancillary events such as three-point shootouts and dunk contests.

All of this is covered by media, televised globally, and tweeted about for three weeks, capturing the imagination of consumers from sports fans to your Aunt Hilda, who filled out her bracket based on her favorite mascots. Consumer PR programs are more inventive than ever, leveraging the "Bubble Watch," brackets, and the "Cinderellas" – and if your bracket breaks, don’t worry, there is a brand that makes it possible for you to start all over.

Brands have convinced consumers to lend us their passion points, which we have turned into a willingness to lean on brands as a resource and a conduit to the action. More importantly, in a market like Dallas where the footprint is scatted, brands have taken to the airwaves and mobile applications to tell you how to get from point A to point B so you can take it all in, all while getting you to opt in to win a free Coke Zero at the big game.

The opportunity to augment the game experience via social media and technology is huge, and the longevity and intensity of the experience offers non-sponsors a chance to be a part of the action, as well. You can keep a brand out of the arena or the footprint, but you can't keep them off Instagram and Twitter. And it’s worth the effort; fans are engaged and believe they need the content brands are providing.

Now a "family of networks" carries the games instead of only one channel, resulting in more on-air talent. That creates more potential spokespeople for brands on-site through fan engagement, autograph sessions, etc. It seems old school, but it’s what fans want and brands oblige. More so than any other domestic sporting event, the NCAA Tournament is a b-to-c play rather than b-to-b play, especially during Final Four weekend. It’s about the consumers and their experience, whether they are on-site, at home, or online.

One twist that on-the-ground PR pros are dealing with this year is a NASCAR race in town and an in-state tragedy that have also occupied the media landscape. More headlines, more brands, and more personalities are vying for a finite number of interviews and camera crews to attend their events. That’s especially difficult when half of the media in attendance leaves after Saturday night. It’s challenging and even more rewarding when you client has its story told, and told well.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament gives brand marketers all they need for measurable outcomes, because the opportunities for output allows your brand to put on a full-court press. Consumers have come to depend on it as part of a valued experience where they live, work, and play.

Mark Riggs is EVP at Taylor.

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