It’s the big dance, the time of year when every sports fan channels their inner dorm-dweller, auspiciously fills out five or 10 brackets and tunes into the college basketball’s great gladiator match.
I’m talking about March Madness, of course, which reaches its epic conclusion with the Final Four this weekend and the crowning National Championship game on Monday.
This year, social media has taken March Madness to whole new heights, letting viewers experience the joy and heartbreak of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament like never before.
Social media has rapidly evolved from a medium to share sports-related memes and witty tweets into a unique way for the everyday fan to enjoy the sport they love. While TV viewership for the tournament remains robust, fans are turning to the phones in their pockets to immerse themselves in every game even more.
Admittedly, the swarm of March Madness in social media is hard to avoid for those who are routinely checking their feeds. Simply logging into Facebook this time of year lands you smack dab in the middle of a barrage of college-themed profile pictures, competitive status updates and officially sanctioned ones to “let your friends know you’re watching the game.”
But for those who relish this special annual event in sports, the more the merrier.
How’s your bracket doing?
For those who live outside the insane bubble of adrenaline-fueled sports mania that is March Madness, I’ll quickly break it down for you. Simply put, this is a single-elimination tournament of the 68 best ranked teams in the NCAA.
Although this seems like a rather run-of-the-mill, if not banal format for a sports championship, brilliant branding and marketing by the NCAA over the past few decades have turned it into one of the most anticipated sports events of the year.
Even the individual rounds have become synonymous with branded terms, including the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four, each escalating in excitement as the final championship game approaches.
The most obvious branding associated with the NCAA tournament, however, is bracketology – the art of playing soothsayer and correctly predicting the outcome of every game.
This next-to-impossible feat can earn far more than bragging rights with your work pals. In years past, Warren Buffett has offered the jaw-dropping prize of one billion (with a b) dollars to the lucky son-of-a-gun who somehow pegged the outcome of every match. Cash prizes are still offered for those who soothsayed the perfect bracket – or got damn close.
ESPN’s Tournament Challenge app is an excellent way to keep track of your brackets, as well as your friends brackets. Entry through ESPN’s app allows you to create up to 10 brackets to compete for $10,000 and a trip to Hawaii.
The social aspect gives this bracket method the edge for some, allowing users to follow their own brackets in a point-based system with their friends. Celebrity brackets are in the chart as well.
Needless to say, there’s a bit more than just school pride fueling the fan frenzy around the tourney. Although nobody ever really expects to have a shot at the ultimate bracket prize, the competitive nature of fans’ involvement in the tournament helps set March Madness apart from the dozens of other sporting events vying for their attention. Naturally, the big social media players are chomping at the bit to facilitate.