Marketing Madness: How Brands are Capitalizing on the NCAA’s Biggest Event

Blog post by: Lea Rosner, Baer Performance Marketing Intern


It’s (arguably) the most anticipated sporting event of the year ᅳ March Madness! From die-hard basketball fans to bandwagon supporters, millions are creating their own brackets and tuning in to see men’s and women’s basketball teams battle it out for the national title. According to ESPN, in 2023, the men’s final averaged 14.69 million viewers, and the women’s final averaged 9.92 million viewers – an all-time high.

Ad spots completely sold out across the tournament, earning the NCAA more than $1 billion in revenue. The tournament is even more popular on social media: in just the first two days of the 2023 tournament, March Madness-related content reached over 1.5 billion impressions on Twitter. People nationwide want to be a part of the conversation, and every year, brands are using this to their advantage, whether that be through NIL deals, ad campaigns, or contests. Let’s take a look at some slam-dunk strategies brands have used to break away from the competition and explore how you can incorporate these tactics to secure your own victory.


Pizza Hut Brings Back a 90s Product Pairing

As the Official Pizza of March Madness, Pizza Hut is a top sponsor of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament year after year. For the 2023 tournament, they brought back a fan-favorite: mini basketballs. Customers could order official March Madness mini basketballs for a limited time through the Pizza Hut app or website. To add to the 90s nostalgia, Pizza Hut paired the basketballs with their classic Big New Yorker pizza, which came in a box that doubled as a hoop and backboard. This campaign is a textbook example of a way to connect with an audience through an interactive product that customers will own for years to come.


Marriott Bonvoy Launches NIL Campaign and Contest

As the Official Hotel Partner of the NCAA, Marriott Bonvoy is making the most of NIL deals with their “Score Big with Marriott Bonvoy Game Day Rituals” campaign. The ads feature NCAA basketball players going through their pregame rituals at various Marriott Bonvoy properties, highlighting the company’s close connection to the competition. The hotel group also gave a chance to all current and new Marriott Bonvoy members to win a trip to the Women’s Final Four in Cleveland, Ohio. The grand prize includes flights, hotel accommodations, courtside seats, and a game day rituals session with former Texas A&M player and current Texas women’s basketball coach Sydney Carter. This giveaway not only supports student athletes but also generates excitement for the tournament, all the while reinforcing strong brand recognition.


Capital One Takes to the Road

Capital One has earned a fan-favorite reputation with its annual NCAA ads, which follow the adventures of Samuel L. Jackson, Charles Barkley, and Spike Lee as they travel to the men’s basketball tournament. The #RoadToOne campaign started back in 2016, and whether it be through musical numbers, celebrity encounters, or visits with a fortune teller, Capital One has been able to incorporate their brand message into every commercial in a memorable way. Their “Champion Ship” ad from 2022 capitalized on the growing popularity of the women’s tournament. Keep an eye out for how Capital One plans to take to the road this year; you might even see some new guests!


How Your Brand Can Embrace the Madness

While most brands don’t have partnerships with the NCAA or access to college athletes, there are still many ways to be a part of the team. Here are a few strategies you should consider adding to your marketing handbook.


Use Hashtags to Engage in the Conversation

#MarchMadness, the official hashtag of the tournament, is essential to generate impressions and create awareness during the month. In 2022, FanDuel used #MarchMadness to caption Twitter (now known as X) memes relating to tournament content, reaching 22.29 million potential impressions. Consider engaging with March Madness content on social media by posting a relatable meme, using #MarchMadness and related hashtags, or supporting your local team.

Host a Bracket Contest

Promoting a bracket contest can be a great way to further connect with your current customer base. Invite them to fill out official brackets for a prize or create one of your own using your brand’s niche. For example, if you own a brewery, you could encourage guests to fill out a bracket to vote which of your beers is the best. The winning drink could then be put on sale for a limited time. With this strategy, you can also gain important customer insight – a win-win.

Offer a March Promotion

Who doesn’t love an excuse for a good sale! Holding a promotion for a limited time or running a basketball-themed ad could help your brand edge past the competition. If there is a popular team in your city, consider implementing a discount code for your customers to redeem every time their team advances in the tournament. However, stay away from using specific phrases such as “Final Four” or “March Madness” to name your promotions – the terms are officially licensed by the NCAA.


Love it or hate it, there’s no arguing against the fact that NCAA basketball will be on everyone’s mind over the next few weeks. At Baer Performance Marketing, we might be basketball rookies, but we do have years of experience in marketing. Consider us as your marketing strategy coach and get in contact for a free consultation today!