If you’re a college basketball fan, March Madness is your favorite time of year. It’s the end of the conference season and Championship Week which turns into an early April hoops fest at the Final Four. This is the time when diehard hoops fans and those just in it for the experience come together around their televisions, around their mobile devices – and under their desks, at work, so the boss doesn’t see them watching – to enjoy (arguably) the most exciting month in sports.

Successful NCAA sponsors take a 360-degree approach to their March Madness marketing efforts, and at Taylor, we’ve partnered with leading brands such as Gillette, Capital One, and Allstate for more than 25 years as they’ve activated around the Final Four. A critical part of our role is to help these brands look closely at how fans think about college sports, and most importantly, how they engage during this timeframe.

By building relationships with teams and conferences and truly understanding the March Madness fan’s mindset, brands can reach the super fans – the ones with replica jerseys who enter multiple bracket pools and religiously check scores every few minutes. They look to gurus like the team at FiveThirtyEight and to basketball savants like Dick Vitale and Joe Lunardi to help them pick brackets, and they’ll struggle to choose based on who they want to win, and who should win, at least on paper.

These super fans will connect with brands that have a history with their school and in college sports, and those who make their lives as sports fans more enjoyable – and they’ll ride with them throughout the tournament. Avid fans love to see their players, coaches, and schools highlighted in TV spots, social content and feature stories in USA Today or Bleacher Report. Anything to help them to get hyped about their team’s chance in the Big Dance will generate engagement and spur action.

Casual fans, on the other hand, take a bit of a different approach to the games but look to be engaged by sponsors just as much. They want to be involved in the March Madness experience but are only somewhat interested in the actual games. They think of NCAA Tournament as a reason to gather with family and friends – the comradery and hanging out with others draw them into the event.

These fans may fill out a bracket, but don’t necessarily care what a post move is, or how to execute a pick-and-roll. They are the ones who are watching from their desks at work or with their kids after dinner, maybe even from a sports bar with some of their buddies who are avid fans. They fit basketball into their lives because for that month because they want to be a part of the experience — a part of the March Madness gathering.

As NCAA sponsors plan for and execute their NCAA tournament activations, sports marketers must dig deep into the minds of both avid and casual fans. WHO is watching, WHY they’re watching, and HOW much are those fans are invested? Brands that can target both fan segments with appropriate messaging and content usually have the best ROI.

When brands drive consumer engagement by helping fans get the most out of their March Madness experience, they also build trust, loyalty, and sell more products.
Remember, it’s about the game AND the gathering.