Monday, March 18, 2013

March Madness: A Branding Wonder

The NCAA basketball tournament is more than a sporting event; it has become a part of our popular culture. Even the most casual sports fan associates "March Madness" and "The Big Dance" with the NCAA tournament. Its status as a cultural icon is enhanced through 24/7 coverage in sports media, non-stop conversations in social media, and increased interest in the women's tournament. The evolution of the NCAA basketball tournament should be the envy of marketers in any industry. Why? It has become an example of how building a strong brand can set the stage for developing new brands that are extensions of the core successful brand.

The NCAA basketball tournament is not a brand; it is a family of distinctive individual brands. Some of the brands are owned by the NCAA, while others are creations of media partners. Regardless of origin, the end result is a powerful core brand, one that was worth $10.8 billion in TV broadcast rights in a 14-year contract the NCAA signed with CBS and Turner Sports in 2010. The competition on the court is intense and exciting no doubt, but what exactly makes this event so valuable? Consider the following brands that the tournament has spawned:

  • March Madness
  • The Big Dance
  • Championship Week
  • Selection Sunday
  • Sweet Sixteen
  • Final Four
  • Big Dance Concert Series
You get the point - the success of the core product led to brand extensions that only added to the stature of the NCAA basketball tournament. Successful products do not automatically mean brand extensions will succeed. Look no further than Mobile ESPN and the XFL for examples of new products rolled out by strong brands that failed miserably. The NCAA basketball tournament and its brand extensions succeed because of the intense emotional connection people have with them. The drama and excitement of the games, predicting what teams will be selected, and of course which team will win it all make for captivating entertainment that the best writers would have trouble creating for television.

March Madness is in full swing- here's hoping your bracket is the best ever in 2013. And, if your team is in the tournament for the first time ever or returning after a long absence (say 24 years like my MTSU Blue Raiders), enjoy the dance.