Written By: Mark Friederich
We’re down to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. The last three games will feature three #1 seeds: Kentucky, Wisconsin and the Blue Devils of Duke, as well as a #7 seed: Michigan State. I am sure most of you would be able to name these Final Four. One or two of them may even be in your bracket. NCAA men’s basketball has become a hotbed for sponsors. Everything heats up around March Madness and culminates this weekend. Is March Madness starting to compete with the NFL’s Super Bowl as a sponsorship platform? Not quite, but...let’s examine the potential.
The NCAA Tournament features:
• Three weeks of nearly continuous games (March 17-April 6 in 2015)
• 68 teams to start with
• Not just 68 teams, but 68 universities, with 68 alumni bases, including some of the largest educational institutions in the U.S.
• That’s an educated, affluent and often youngish demographic
• 3 billion tournament brackets (ok, I made that up) with participants from “experts” to “never-watched-a-basketball-game-in-my-life”
• Delivered at a time of relative calm in the U.S. sports market
• Nearly 21 million viewers watched last year’s title game paling against the approximately 114 million viewers of Super Bowl XLIX
Corporate sponsors are many and include LG
(as part of its Home Court Challenge, LG offers a trip to the Final Four), Enterprise Rent-a-Car
is featuring employees who were once competitive college athletes in an effort to recruit college graduates, and car brands, including Buick
. Turner Sports and CBS Sports have exclusivity to certain media rights, but for the first time in any sport, ESPN is streaming live March Madness games to Facebook. In general, March Madness sponsorship is dominated by automotive, financial services and telecom. The three corporate champions, AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola, are each paying about $35 million and more annually to align with the NCAA (not just men’s basketball, of course).
Incidentally, would you be able to name the Final Four of the 2015 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Championship (the official Women’s March Madness name)? Well, UConn will face the Maryland Terps and Notre Dame will face South Carolina on April 5th, with the championship game on Tuesday, April 7th -- the concluding event of March Madness 2015. Did you have any of these four in your tournament bracket? Most unlikely since most of us don’t have a bracket for the women’s tournament. Most sponsors, I fear, feel the same way. Yet despite a much lower interest level, despite the absence of hype, despite the half-filled arenas (if even), smart sponsors will realize the targeted audience women’s basketball (or any women’s sport) can deliver at a much lower fee. For example, women’s basketball fans are typically younger, less affluent and more ethnically diverse than fans of men’s’ college basketball. I am certain there are plenty of brands who would love that kind of a target audience.