The 2010 Social Media and Sport Report (Pt 1): Fueling ‘March Madness’

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By Adam Vincenzini 

A special series looking at the build up to the first ever ‘truly social’ FIFA World Cup, South Africa, June 2010.

Today, we look at how one of the world’s most famous and ‘tribal’ sporting events, the NCAA College Basketball Championship, is using social media and online channels to fuel ‘March Madness’ and the high standards being set ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

March Madness 101

If you’re not familiar with ‘March Madness’ let me give you a quick rundown.

One single elimination tournament. 65 US college basketball teams. TV, digital, radio and publishing rights worth $529 million. 130 million viewers worldwide.

TNS Media Intelligence, VP of research, John Swallen sums it up well:

“As a sports marketing event, the collegiate basketball tournament is part of a Final Four alongside the Super Bowl and the Summer and Winter Olympics.” 

In other words: IT’S A BIG DEAL.

The Method Behind the Marketing of ‘March Madness’

The BIG question is: How is the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and it’s commercial partners leveraging the passion fans have for the tournament?

NCAA.com – the ‘hub’

The ‘star’ of the NCAA.com hub is March Madness on Demand – live free video streaming featuring EVERY GAME of the tournament.

CBSSports.com is powering the dedicated channel, delivering around-the-clock coverage in HQ (High Quality) which would have only been a pipe dream for sports fans just five years ago.

An official March Madness on Demand iPhone app has also been launched to support the web channel, giving fans mobile access to the excitement.

Social Media Platforms

Most of the major social media platforms are being employed by the NCAA, including:

NCAA Blog Central
Twitter / NCAA
Facebook Fan page
Podcasts
YouTube Channel

Nothing particularly groundbreaking is happening via these platforms, but in making sure each platform is integrated into the ‘fan offer’ with each featuring fresh content throughout the tournament, the NCAA is ensuring fans can connect via the channels they use on a regular basis.

Things to take note of:

Membership of the NCAA Basketball Facebook Fan Page is at about 12,000, where as the recent Vancouver Winter Olympics Fan Page reached more than 1.2 million fans. There are definitely more opportunities of cross-promoting this channel within the streaming broadcast.

The NCAA has chosen not to use a 3rd party photo sharing platform like Flickr, instead adopting a more ‘old-school’ and commercially focused approached by hosting galleries solely within NCAA.com.

The NCAA Twitter account is almost being exclusively used as a news feed, with not much interaction taking place. This element of the offer could be bolstered if the the NCAA responded more to followed more fans, responded to fan comments and re-tweeted other people’s content. I think they are missing a trick here.

Commercial partner activity

A lot of creative activity is being undertaken by the brands associated with the NCAA including: AT&T, Coca-Cola Zero and Capital One.

Coke Zero and Capital One are probably the two worth looking at in the most detail as they are taking very unique and engaging approaches to their partnership exploitation.

Coca-Cola Zero: Brain Bracket Championship

This simple, but clever idea, involves asking fans to submit innovations (or as they call them ‘fannovations’) to help enhance the fan experience of the Championship.

The shortlisted ideas have made it into the final 64 elimination showdown, where they go head-to-head and voted for by other fans.

The ultimate winner receives $10,000.

Capital One: The Ivan Brothers 

Another clever idea, this time using YouTube as the hub.
To launch the new Capital One Venture Credit Card with Double Air Miles, two medieval brothers standing at 7’2″ and 7’8″ feature in a series of mini-movies showing the power of ‘doubling up’.

I like the use of video in this campaign however this appears to be a more costly execution than the route Coca-Cola has taken but only sign-ups / leads generated as a result will give us a complete picture.

In saying that, the channel has already had more than 285,000 views.

For more, check out TheIvanBrothers.com

Summing it all up

I think it’s fair to say that the NCAA’s commercial partners, especially CBS Sports, Coca-Cola and Capital One are really doing some innovative and powerful things around this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA itself, like most amateur sporting associations, is probably not meeting the same ‘grades’ via their own channels (most likely due to funding / budgets) but some minor tweaks like increasing Twitter engagement levels could make a big difference.

It’s a great case study, and one that FIFA should keep a close eye on.

Adam Vincenzini

Notes:

Prior to joining Paratus Communications, I worked with Cricket Australia for a number of years, helping to market Australia’s most popular sport and it’s ‘proudest possession’ – the Australia Cricket Team.

In the build up to the 2006/07 Ashes Series we, and our commercial partners, activated a number of campaigns to bring fans closer to the contest, including the launch of the Australian Cricket Family – the official fan membership of Cricket Australia.

In just four short years, the way sports fans connect to major events has changed dramatically, thanks mainly to the improvements in the technology available and the social media explosion.

1 Comment

  • Reply March 22, 2010

    Jason Peck

    It’s a shame the NCAA doesn’t have a March Madness/basketball specific Twitter account or one with some personality. The biggest problem is we don’t know who the tweets are coming from, so it’s hard to foster dialogue/conversation when people have to talk to a logo.

    Their blog is also lacking basic functionality such as the ability for people to easily share posts with their friends on other sites.

    If anyone from the NCAA reads this, please get in touch. I’d love to help, and I’m sure Adam would, too.

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