Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Sports Complex: The Insane Trends in March Madness

Amongst the madness of March each year (as fellow contributor Kevin Murray discussed yesterday), it’s easy for the big business of the Big Dance to go unnoticed. High-level sponsors and multibillion dollar broadcast deals make the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament one of the biggest draws in sport. Here are some trends that affect the future of the Big Dance:

Michael Smith of SBJ discusses the major innovations that set this sport behemoth in motion. The most major of these changes involve the Final Four, the last three games of the tournament that have grown from simple athletic contest to a cultural and entertainment mega event. The event was moved to prime time on Saturday and Monday nights in 1973 (to generate the largest TV audience possible). In 2009, the NCAA moved the court from one end of the dome to the center, allowing more than “70,000 fans to witness the championship game each year.” When Coca-Cola became one of the NCAA’s highest-level sponsors in 2002, they wanted to create an event on the Sunday between the semifinal and National Championship game. Started in 2003, this event has now grown to a three-day festival of music during Final Four weekend, each day sponsored by a different NCAA champion sponsor.

Some future trends that will positively impact the value of the NCAA Tournament include improved LED courtside signage and more courtside seating, as well as increasing the use of mobile devices and other technology to expand the viewership of the tournament. There has also been talk of moving the Final Four back to an arena, instead of exclusively the bowls that have been home to the tournament since 1997 (per SportsBusiness Journal).

David Haney of SBJ discusses one recent trend that is harming those involved with the NCAA Tournament; brand degradation. Many schools including Louisville, UCLA, Baylor, and Notre Dame agreed to wear Adidas’ new short sleeve and camouflage uniforms during postseason play. The consensus among fans is that the uniforms are unattractive and distracting. Haney argues that these uniforms are great for Adidas’ brand building, but do little (and may actually harm) the brands of the partnering schools. In 2012, over 57 million people watched the NCAA Tournament—the latest fad uniforms might generate some chatter, but over the long term it weakens brand associations fans have with a specific university (Notre Dame’s jerseys are the most egregious). This trend flies directly in the face of all brand management best practices.

Overall, big business has made a great deal of positive impact on the NCAA Tournament’s business. That being said, not all change (even when millions of dollars are involved) is positive for the universities and the athletes involved.

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