The Brand Behind the Madness

The Brand Behind the Madness

As Selection Sunday approaches, college basketball fans around the country are preparing their brackets, discussing their Final Four picks, and setting up multiple screens in their living room (I’m definitely guilty of the latter). The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is a three week, 67 game, roller coaster ride of emotions. We like to call it “March Madness.” It’s the drama of an underdog taking down a top seed, the excitement of a 3-point buzzer-beater, and the anticipation of watching your favorite team advance to the next round.

From its humble beginning in 1939, its introduction to a national audience in 1979 when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird squared off in the National Championship game, to the coining of the phrase “March Madness” in 1984, over the past 25 years the NCAA tournament has grown into a sports showcase. By branding each round of the tournament (i.e. Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four) and leveraging pre-game, in-game and post-game marketing opportunities, the NCAA has built a recognizable brand around March Madness.

It’s All About the Drama

What makes March Madness so captivating are the narratives that develop throughout the tournament. It truly is madness. The tournament officially begins with “Selection Sunday.” CBS hosts an hour-long selection show, building anticipation as the brackets are revealed. Every year deserving teams are left out of the field, creating controversy amongst the media and fans.

However, the controversy quickly fades as the first two rounds tip-off on opening weekend. Filled with buzzer-beaters and those, “I never saw that coming” moments,” it’s the most action-packed weekend in all of sports. Every year, “Cinderella” stories are born in the first round. A small school team nobody expects knocks off the big dogs of college basketball on their way to the Sweet Sixteen, capturing the hearts and spirits of fans around the country. The second weekend begins with the Sweet Sixteen, narrows it down to the Elite Eight, and finishes up with only four teams headed to the promised land of college basketball, the Final Four.

Ultimately, the final buzzer sounds and a National Champion is crowned. In true dramatic form, the nets are cut down and the song “One Shining Moment” serenades the new Champions with a montage of unforgettable highlights from the tournament.

Show Me the Money!

One of the primary reasons the business of professional sports is a multi-billion dollar industry is because of the advertising and television revenues the leagues generate. College sports is no different. For marketers and advertisers looking to dish out big dollars and grab a piece of March Madness, it’s a steep price to pay, but well worth the investment. The growing interest and excitement around the NCAA tournament are why CBS and Turner Sports purchased the 14-year, $10.8 billion broadcasting rights. In 2014, the first and second rounds of the tournament averaged nearly 9.8 million total viewers, with 21.2 million viewers tuning in for the National Championship game, according to Nielsen ratings.

Last year alone, CBS and Turner generated $1.15 billion in ad revenue, according to Kantar Media. Large national and international brands like AT&T, Coca-Cola, Capital One, Allstate, and Unilever invest millions of dollars to partner with the NCAA and sponsor the tournament. In terms of sponsorship and advertisement opportunities, the NCAA has left no stone unturned. From Dasani branded water coolers to the Infiniti NCAA Tip-Off Show and Inside March Madness Post-Game Show presented by Buick, the tournament is an advertiser’s dream.

NCAA Men's basketball championship TV ad spend

To give you an example of how globally recognized brands are jumping in on the action, look at the recent trend from sports clothing companies like Adidas and Nike. With a target demographic of 25-57-year-old males, making up nearly 57 percent of the viewing audience, according to Forbes, it’s the perfect platform to showcase new uniform designs and technologies. Adidas sponsors nine top tier universities that will be participating in this year’s tournament and recently unveiled their new ‘Made in March’ uniform designs.

Via the Adidas news release, the new uniform technology consists of, “the same lightweight, sweat-wicking technology used in the NBA and targeted ventilation zones on the chest, back, and side to keep players cool even in the most intense moments of the game. A perforated pattern on the short maximizes comfort and breathability as the game heats up.” Campaigns like these show that the tournament is an advertiser’s dream with numerous marketing opportunities ready to be explored.

Appealing to the Masses

What makes the tournament such a popular event is the accessibility of EVERY single game. Accessibility is the key to appealing to the masses in today’s world. It all starts with the way the tournament is being consumed. CBS, Turner Sports, and the NCAA have made every game accessible to viewers across all types of viewing platforms. If fans aren’t able to kick back in their recliner and flip on the television, they can download the NCAA March Madness Live app and watch it on the go with their iOS or Android devices. There are also streaming services available through and to catch the live-action.


Over the past 25 years, the NCAA has positioned March Madness as a must-see, national sporting event. What truly separates the NCAA tournament from any other sporting event is a combination of the fan experience, viewing accessibility, and brand awareness built around the three-week event by some of the best marketers and advertisers in the industry. . From sponsored bracket challenges to on-court buzzer-beaters, fans always have a rooting interest. The build-up around the tournament draws people in and the drama keeps viewers glued to their televisions, computers, tablets, and phones. If you have the chance to tune in at any point over the next three weeks, take note of how the NCAA has uniquely branded all aspects of the tournament and how national and international companies have positioned themselves to showcase their marketing campaigns to a national audience.

Finally, one quick tip for those of you who need to catch the Madness at work but are afraid management is lurking. One-click of the “Boss Button” on and the live game will be replaced by a readymade spreadsheet! Employers may hate this time of year but the advertisers love it, it’s the 21-day event known simply as “March Madness.”

Brock Diedrick

Brock Diedrick

I enjoy working with clients in all types of industries and embrace taking on all the new challenges that present themselves on a daily basis.
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