• Debbie Goldfarb

March Madness and What it Can Teach us About Business

“As you know, madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.” — Joker


The month of March brings a curious ailment across the country. And every year I get this affliction… millions of people got it too. It has no known cure as of yet. The disease… March Madness.


The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)’s Division One Men’s Basketball Tournament is the official name of March Madness. And it was in 1982 that sportscaster and CBS announcer, Brent Musburger, coined the phrase “March Madness” and it stuck since then. It’s one of the biggest events in American sports. Sixty-eight college teams get invited to the big dance but by early April there’s one left standing.


This year may be different because of the pandemic, the NCAA will host the entire tournament in one geographic region for the first time along with other changes made to keep the teams and officials safe. But March Madness after a long lay-off it is expected to remain a big deal.


So, what is the big deal?


March Madness is one of the biggest, most exciting, and fun events in all of sports. The first tournament took place in 1939 — when only eight teams competed. Today, the women and men NCCA teams — each have 68 teams competing in 67 matches over four rounds in three weeks in March. First round consists of 32 games which is then reduced to the “Sweet 16” for the second round. The third round consists of “Elite Eight which is then whittled down to the “Final Four” are left. After completing play in the semifinals — we move to fourth round where final two teams play in the national championship game.


College basketball (and March Madness) is by far the most popular college sport in the country. The season attracts over 100 million viewers. Even though there is a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance that someone could pick the winner of all the games correctly — close to 73 million people try to guess (and, even gamble) the results of 170 million brackets trying to predict how the games will play out.


Crazy, no? When it comes to sports, March Madness is another one of the most dominant events of the year for gambling, advertising spends, and viewer engagement. For advertisers and viewers alike, this is truly a “mad” time of the year… In 2019 (skipping 2020 due to COVID) 155 brands appeared during the NCCA Tournament — collectively airing 363 unique spots over 5,252 airings for a total of six solid days of screen time for advertisements.

In 2019 brands spent over $1.3 billion ad spend on all live games and were rewarded with over 24 million live hours consumed, 35 billion total impressions and 70 million viewers across multiple media platforms. Based on the use of streaming platforms advertisers saw a 94% increase in engagements primarily from highly coveted 25–45 viewers.


Based on the results of the World Series and Super Bowl and being the second most popular showcase for advertisers following the NFL playoffs — it is anticipated that March Madness will continue to perform slightly under the 2019 results.


Why is March Madness so popular?


There are a variety of reasons why March Madness has become such an advertising juggernaut and morale booster for viewers:

  • Everyone has a bit of skin in the game — from the chips at Trader Joes, to brands with special March Madness clothing to universities across the US.

  • The tournament takes place during a gap in the regular sports season between baseball and football season — filling a void for avid sports fans.

  • Games are played in a short span of time creating a level of excitement that never lulls — leaving fans hooked and wondering what will happen next.

  • Gambling, gambling, and more gambling — despite ridiculous odds — wagers for March Madness have amounted to $10.6 Billion that is twice the gambling for Super Bowl.

  • Possibility of a Cinderella Story — who does not love seeing an underperforming team beat a stronger and better-known team?

Is March Madness really mad?


For sports fans and lovers of competitive spirit nationally, March Madness is an amazing series that brands can use in their favor to expand their audiences and increase engagement. Since March Madness is not merely a one-night event, brands have had huge opportunities for sustained, longer-term retail marketing.


Over the course of the three-week tournament March Madness takes place online and instore at every major grocery, sports equipment or party favors locations. Online games and simulations are available. And let us not forget just how successful social media has made watching, betting, and accessing live Tournament action and results.


I don’t think March Madness is really mad. I think it’s rather genius. In fact, there are a few lessons small business owners can learn from the games.


  1. Capitalize on a market opportunity.

  2. Harness the power of social media.

  3. Take risks — getting into business is a gamble but do your research to know if it’s a risk worth taking.

  4. Collaborate — because winning is a team effort.

  5. It’s okay to be small or the underdog — because many underdog teams come from behind and win the game. It’s the “Cinderella” story most people love.

  6. Trust the experts— coaches or the veteran/more senior player.

For expert marketing tips, check out my other blogs on Medium. And email us or visit our website for help with marketing and branding for your small business.

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