The casual fan knows all about March Madness and the craziness that ensues when the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament tips off. Heroes made, eventually a champion crowned and Cinderella usually dances again and again, at least for a few weeks. The heavily margined, tightly controlled advertising dollars that go against March Madness are leveraged by brands much like those spends that go into the Super Bowl…high cost, high priority, high exposure.
However for those brands looking to emerge on cost conscious dollars, the territory leading up to The Big Dance can also provide a pretty solid reward, especially regionally and sometimes with an even better ROI. The territory is the place where Cinderella is born, the mid-major conference tournaments. While many times national fans don’t engage until Championship Week for the smaller conferences, the local fans show up every day, and are watching on CBS College or NBC Sports Net or ESPN U as teams from those middle of the road but highly talented tournaments move towards their one or two bid ends. In many cases the neutral site gives brands an all-in-one place to engage fans from a wide demo, while in other cases on-campus sites can provide a little more local flavor. These tournaments are rarely over-leveraged with sponsorship and even on-air opportunities abound. However if you are a start-up national brand, or even a regional brand looking to expand its doors, the ability to get in activate and grab signage and eyeballs remains very high until the last few days of a mid-major tournament in many cases. Also for the right brand, blanket coverage of those mid-majors can provide a great saturation point at a fraction of the cost for grabbing March Madness.
Has it worked for brands in the past? One that used that blanket coverage as it launched was Slingbox. A few years ago, as the device was going to market, the brand purchased a large portion of on-court signage and other promotions at almost every mid-major conference tournament leading through championship week. No college fan, the die hard or the casual, could, forget seeing Slingbox’s logo on dasher boards that week, and would have better recall after the tournaments when the device went full bore to market. It was a subtle, effective and reasonable way to reach a core audience without a mega-buy for the NCAA tournament. There was no title sponsorship involved, and the buy was spread effectively. A nice saturation speaking to a core audience. Now not every brand can be able to do such a purchase because of category exclusivity or rules prohibiting certain products. Alcohol is off limits, energy drinks are probably too split to be effective. But a digital company, or even some financial services companies or even an energy bar could find a niche across many of the mid-majors to make a difference. In many cases the benefits from a tournament may not even all be needed and can be swapped out for other low cost but highly effective opportunities. Hospitality and tickets may not be appealing, but social media may be. Access to PA announcements or program ads may work better than an in-game promotion. The goal is to craft a platform that makes sense across time zones, time slots and schools to deliver exposure at a time where college hoops is rising to a crescendo, one that a rising brand may like but not be ready for.
That value lies in the college tournaments, all with their own stories and miracle finishes, and an area ripe for takeover in the right category. Let the games begin.