05 April 2011

March Madness: Mad Marketing

March Madness -- the affectionate term for the crazy few weeks of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament -- came to an end tonight. One team went home extremely happy, 67 others finished up a little sadder, and the whole viewing audience waited for the 2011 version of "One Shining Moment."

Most of you know I am a complete sport nut. I am also a marketer, and have been thinking quite a bit about this tournament from that perspective the last few weeks.

Because it's brilliant.

March Madness kicks off "Selection Sunday," an event where each match up is unveiled, with cameras on the bubble teams to watch them as their dreams come true, or are dashed. A few days later, traditionally on Thursday & Friday (this year there were a few pre-round of 64 games), the tournament starts with back-to-back days packed with games (starting at 9amish and wrapping up about 9pmish on both days). 64 teams face off from across the country, and college basketball fans sit in their favorite watering holes, filled out brackets in front of them, and park for the day, watching their brackets fill or bust.

Oh, yes, the brackets. Somewhere along the line, someone had the genius idea to allow fans to fill out brackets, where they would decide, game-by-game, who the winner would be, whittling it down to the final four, finals, and winner. While gambling this way is illegal, filling out brackets has become an event in and of itself, filling those 3 days from announcement to tip-off with anxiety, excitement, and second guesses.

Already, in looking at what I wrote, I see a marketer's dream come true. "Selection Sunday." Bubble teams. Round of 64. All terms introduced and made popularized by this event. And make no mistake, this is indeed an event.

Much like the NFL has been able to market itself as something that can't be missed, so has the NCAA and March Madness. Even those rather uninterested in sports take part in filling out a bracket, cheering on a team, watching those first couple of crazy games. The tournament continues for 3 weeks, culminating in the Final Four/Finals weekend. This has to be one of the most coveted tickets in American sports (perhaps just by me). And why? Because most of the players will ply their trade no further than this moment; they will go on to be something else entirely. But here, in this stage, they have the opportunity to be the best -- beat a team they never should have (and this often happens, this year's finals is evidence!), win the ultimate honor of their sport's careers. And it is pretty awesome.

Hence, "One Shining Moment." This is often the thing we look most forward to at the final game. This simple, cheesy video. Facebook newsfeeds fill up with comments on it. Twitter trends it. And the marketing folks behind the NCAA finals do a happy dance of joy. They have done their job, made accessible something that could seem a little out of reach, and made it common knowledge.

Brills, really.

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