CAMPAIGNS: Internet PR - At last, method to Knight's madness

Client: (Reston, VA)

PR Team: Alan Taylor Communications (New York) and Sandbox's in-house

team (Reston, VA)


Time Frame: February-March 2001

Budget: Under dollars 100,000

March Madness is more than just the nickname for the NCAA Tournament to

crown college basketball's No. 1 team. It's an appropriate way to

describe the cultural phenomenon that has millions vying to predict the

results of all the games.

For the past three years,, one of the Internet's top

interactive sports sites, has conducted a tournament prediction contest


The site hadn't had much online competition until this year, when big

boys such as and entered the fray with their

high-profile TV relationships and strong ties to the NCAA. and Alan Taylor Communications prepared for battle with a

strong game plan.


Prizes are usually the biggest lure to any contest, and

offered 400 of them, along with dollars 10 million for anyone who picked

the brackets perfectly (at odds of 5.7 billion to one). What's more,

signing up for the contest was free. Tempting, no doubt, but the

competition was offering similar incentives. So had to

differentiate itself.

Four months before the tournament, ATC decided to align the contest with

a big name - someone with legendary status and an ever-present place in

the media spotlight - someone like Bobby Knight, who was recently fired

as the head basketball coach at Indiana University. An agreement was

reached quickly; Knight was offered dollars 50,000 and the PR push was


ATC and focused on building awareness of by

taking advantage of Knight's natural press-drawing ability and his

incomparable insight into college hoops. The media blitz centered around

the three-day period between the announcement of the tournament pairings

(Sunday, March 11) and the start of the tournament (Thursday, March 16),

when most people would sign up for the contest.


In February, ATC gave Bloomberg Wire Service an exclusive on their

signing of Knight. As the tournament approached, Knight supplied more

and more content on the site. In addition, an extensive online ad

campaign was launched 10 days prior to the tournament. Then, when the

tournament pairings were announced, ATC applied a full-court press on

the press.

On Monday, March 12, a VNR was released featuring Knight's involvement

with, his analysis of the upcoming tournament and

exclusive commentary on the rumors linking him with the Texas Tech

coaching job (which he later accepted).

That same day, an SMT was set up with 12 TV stations, and a conference

call was conducted with 18 prominent print journalists from outlets such

as AP, USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Post. A

chat session allowed fans to speak with Knight.

Results received more than 300 print media placements and more

than 125 million impressions.

Stories ran in USA Today (including a front-page story in the sports

section), The Washington Post, The New York Times, the New York Post, AP

and Bloomberg. In addition to the sports angle, some covered the

technology aspect of the promotion, focusing on the potential success of

such a contest considering the volume of Web traffic prior to major

sporting events.

The televised coverage included more than 290 hits and nearly 69 million

impressions. Knight appeared on CNN's Larry King Live!, Fox & Friends,

ESPN and HBO's On The Record with Bob Costas.

The contest drew 739,281 participants this year, up from 610,750 in


And nearly two-thirds of the sign-ups occurred in the three-day period

prior to the NCAA Tournament.


ATC will handle PR for again in 2002. Specific PR plans,

including naming a spokesman, will not be finalized until late this


However, Knight tops the list of candidates.

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