March Madness: A Textbook Lesson In Branding (Part 1)

Everywhere I look I see headlines about March Madness. NCAA basketball has honed this annual classic into a premiere sporting, branding, promotional, and public relations event. Major college and professional sports tournaments are usually big draws, but this year, the March Madness marketing machine seems supercharged. Maybe it is because it follows closely on the heels of the Winter Olympics. At any rate, it has major legs. The buzz is pervasive and loud.

Part of the big draw for this event is no doubt the fact that you start out with 64 teams from all over the country, and in 20 days, whittle the field down to one champion. That is one of the great things about sports; only a few players are actually involved in the game, but thousands of fans are immersed vicariously as though they were at the very center of the drama.

One reason this tournament has such a powerful brand presence is all its well known, iconic names that are famous in sports lexicon: March Madness, Big Dance, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and the Final Four. Talk about a reality show—this one is king.

March Madness is a major topic of discussion in offices all over the country. That might be great for the NCAA, but it might not be too good for business. According to this story in the USA Today, employers will lose $237 million in wages for every 13.5 minutes workers spend on the Internet tracking games.

You can follow the tournament on television or you can sign up to watch the games free on the NCAA Web site at March Madness On Demand (MMOD). The free on-demand video is already a big hit. Games at MMOD are broadcast live, plus you can also get archived video, archived audio, and video highlights. In addition there are all sorts of stats, live brackets, and scoreboards. CBS is also making the games available via iTunes. In addition, you can go to Google and sign up to get current scores and schedules via SMS on your mobile phone.

Like the story in a good novel, March Madness is inexorably building to a climax, and nobody can say for sure how it ends. However, there are millions of people, and perhaps billions of wagered dollars, hoping the story concludes with the team they hold dear.

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