The Sponsorships Behind March Madness
March Madness is here! The 64-team men’s and women’s championship tournaments start Thursday, March 16, and millions of fans have filled out this year’s bracket and plan to tune in for the exciting games.
Official partnerships are expensive when it comes to the NCAA’s crown jewel event. All NCAA basketball sponsorships are through CBS and Turner Sports, who have “exclusive rights to license NCAA marks, tickets and taglines in commercial promotions with respect to the NCAA championships and hold certain exclusive media rights in the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship” (NCAA). However, many brands find creative ways to activate around the NCAA tournament without infringing on the organization’s intellectual property.
NCAA Official Sponsors
The easiest way for brands to participate in March Madness is to pay to be an official sponsor. The tournament’s biggest and longest-standing partners are deemed Corporate Champions. The three Corporate Champions for the 2023 men’s tournament are Capital One, AT&T, and Coca-Cola.
Capital One receives exposure during March Madness by sponsoring the NCAA’s Bracket Challenge. Every year, millions of brackets are submitted by fans, as they play against friends, family, work groups, and other fans for the chance to have the most accurate bracket.
Other official partners of the NCAA tournament are Corporate Partners and include such brands as Nissan, Aflac, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buick, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s. These brands are mentioned as the “Official Partner of March Madness” and are used on the NCAA’s visuals. The prestige and recognition that comes with the March Madness logo and “official partner” text in advertisements is valuable to brands. On top of that, brands associated with the championship receive additional exposure before and after the tournament from the NCAA’s and broadcast partners’ social and digital media in the form of tournament previews, highlight reels, and other sponsored assets.
Ambush Marketing Campaigns
Many brands activate around the tournament without infringing on the rights of the NCAA. This is commonly referred to as ambush marketing.
For example, Corona has partnered with DraftKings to offer the “bracket beach challenge.” Corona and DraftKings are not using exclusive rights of the NCAA or official partners but are marketing to college basketball fans — with a creative twist. Be on the lookout on social media and during commercials for brands that found innovative ways to be a part of the event without an official sponsorship.
Whether you’re an official sponsor or creating an ambush marketing campaign, brands should consider using Blinkfire’s customizable campaign management that uses AI technology to help rights holders and brands track, value, and report on digital and social activations more accurately and efficiently.
March Madness starts before the NCAA championships with the conference tournaments. For many teams, winning their conference tournament is the only way to make NCAAs. Conferences tournaments are unique opportunities for sponsors to reach fans, especially with the geographic targeting that comes with college conferences.
Ally x ACC Women’s Tournament
Ally Financial is intent one being a brand that invests in women’s sports. Ally’s new sponsorship deal with ESPN and Disney funnels 90% of its overall investment into women’s sports with a five-year goal of splitting its sports advertising equally between men’s and women’s sports. The financial company is the first title sponsor of the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament and will also create a custom content series with ESPN centered around highlighting women in sports.
New York Life x ACC Men’s Tournament
New York Life sponsored the ACC’s Men’s tournament this year. This customized logo was on center court during the tournament and showed up on social media posts from teams.
Many brands activated around conference tournaments this year but none more than Hercules Tires. The tire brand was a title sponsor for five conference championship tournaments.
Conference Tournament Sponsors
Take a look at the different brands that sponsored the major conference tournaments over the last two weeks.
America East: Jersey Mike’s
ACC: New York Life
Big East: Jeep
Big Sky: Idaho Central Credit Union
Big South: Hercules Tires
Big Ten: TIAA
Big 12: Phillips 66
Big West: Hercules Tires, Hawaiian Islands
Colonial: Jersey Mike’s
Conference USA: TotalCare
Metro Atlantic Athletic: Hercules Tires
Mid-Eastern Athletic: Wells Fargo
Missouri Valley: State Farm
Ohio Valley: United Fidelity Bank
Pac-12: New York Life
Patriot League: Penfed Credit Union
Southland: Jersey Mike’s
Southwestern Athletic: Cricket, Starry
Summit League: Jans Corporation
Sun Belt: Hercules Tires
Western Athletic: Hercules Tires
West Coast: University Credit Union
March Madness’ campaigns and sponsorships drive enormous value for brands, and Blinkfire is here to help unlock the data and insights. Throughout the next three weeks, make sure to check our social media and blog for interesting data around men’s and women’s tournaments.
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