March Madness is a key US sports window that provides an opportunity to connect with younger sports fans and drive engagement with your brand.
For US sports, basketball leads the pack for 16-25-year-olds. It’s an exciting time for NCAA sports, with major division re-alignments happening, NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) dollars going to programs and athletes, and the rise in legalized sports betting. Fandom overall is undergoing changes as well, with technology enabling more immersive fan experiences and an increase in viewing options with the growth of streaming services.
With all of this, marketing to March Madness viewers and creating campaigns based on this sports window should be one key part of brands’ sports marketing strategies. March Madness provides a great opportunity to take advantage of the buzz and excitement surrounding the NCAA tournament (and brackets, of course) and the school spirit of students and alumni.
Here are 5 March Madness Marketing Plays for your brand to consider!
1) Enhance engagement before and during the tournament
For March Madness, there are a lot of fun opportunities to be had pre-tournament related to bracket selections, picking potential Cinderella teams, and engaging fans whose alma maters or favorite teams are going to the tournament or are on the bubble. Utilize some of this buzz and anticipation in your promotions - asking people to enter their picks or favorite teams as part of a promotion, for example.
During the tournament, there are opportunities around mini-brackets (e.g. doing a promotion based on which teams are left) or around fans' picks and their success or lack of success. You can also give more entries for people submitting picks that advanced to the next round or the Final Four. Getting people engaged on social for fun promotions or sweepstakes is a great way to grow your fan base, to get engagement and to ring up sales.
2) Run promotions that generate first party data for future engagement/personalization
Consider your first party data strategy when you plan your March Madness marketing campaigns. Capturing zero- or first-party data related to their preferences, favorite teams, geography and contact information can be valuable for understanding your audience, and for reaching out for future campaigns as well. In addition, you can run campaigns to collect very specific types of data. For example, running a receipt upload promotion allows you to perform basket analysis and see, for example, other products that they buy when purchasing your products. This can help you plan future co-promotions or partnerships, enable further personalization or more tailored offers, give ideas for shelf/display optimization and product bundles, and to understand their use of competitive products as well.
Example of a sports-related promotion by Danone:
Danone was looking to develop an exciting promotion in partnership with the NHL to drive sales and promote their partnership. By adding a fresh take to their annual "Snack to Win" campaign, Danone developed a purchase-based sweepstakes where consumers who purchased any qualifying Danone Oikos yogurt product could enter for a chance to win $25,000 in total prizes, including a trip for 2 to the Stanley Cup finals in 2023. For additional incentive, Snipp added an instant-win component where consumers could instantly win prizes including NHL Shop Gift Cards, Pre-Paid Visas, and Danone Coupons.
3) Engage sports personalities or athletes as influencers
Influencer marketing can work for sports marketing as well. Consider tying up with ex-athletes or sports influencers to grow your audience and to get help generating proprietary content for your brand to share. The influencers can also participate as part of a prize bundle, where it makes sense.
4) Consider brand-platform marketing collaborations
Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Facebook have become key OTT channels for sports marketing campaigns. Collaborations with these platforms offer opportunities to engage with wider audiences and to collect more data, as most subscribers create personalized profiles that help brands know who sees their content and when.
Example of a sports marketing brand-platform collaboration:
Mercedes-Benz opted to tie-up with Amazon’s “Thursday Night Football” programming for its electric car advertising push. Amazon’s stream proved highly popular with people between the ages of 18 and 45, accounting for 24% of the audience, compared to just 14% of the NFL’s TV audience. The young audience is what drew Mercedes-Benz to Amazon, encouraging the brand to sponsor the first half-time show.
5) Explore more purpose-driven campaigns
Tie sports marketing with broader, purpose-driven strategies. For example, help be a driver for the continued growth of women’s sports, by running promotions centered around the Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. Or, consider how your campaign can support underserved communities - related to sports or providing useful resources or opportunities to those in need. Obviously, these can be tied to your company or marketing team’s broader efforts around community impact and don’t need to be one-offs centered around one sports marketing window.
Example of a purpose-driven campaign by Gatorade:
Gatorade’s Fuel Tomorrow campaign is partnering with national youth groups to develop activities that promote equity in sports by using their grassroots networks and expertise. The multi-year effort comprises a $10 million initial investment in these groups, as well as additional funding to help them advance their missions. The platform will also provide access to sports facilities, equipment, and transportation, while also training coaches on how to be champions of equity and inclusion.
March Madness Marketing: One key sports marketing window
There are various windows to run sports marketing campaigns to engage passionate fans during the times when they’re most engaged. Our Guide to Sports Marketing is a great resource to give you trends, stats, marketing ideas and examples of what other brands are doing. Consider running a campaign for March Madness - or plan for the next sports marketing window - using some of the ideas above or in the guide!