Sport Marketing and March Madness

View all blog posts under Articles

March Madness is a brilliant example of sport marketing; even the president of the United States and his electoral rival Mitt Romney got in on the action. In 2015, Americans created nearly 12 million March Madness brackets and this year’s championship game had the highest viewership — 28.3 million viewers — in 22 years.

The tournament rocked social media: There were over 350 million impressions between Facebook and Twitter alone, not to mention Instagram, Vine, and Pinterest. This year, March Madness social media engagement increased nearly 50 percent over 2014’s tournament.

Major brands capitalized on the March Madness hype. According to AdWeek, AT&T’s campaign topped the Elite Eight of social media bands with nearly 13,000 mentions, and Capitol One swept the favorability ratings, with 96 percent giving the brand top marks. But some brands outperformed across all marketing metrics; here are four brands that managed a slam dunk.


Most brands focused on social giants Facebook and Twitter, which generated engagement stats of 60 percent and 13 percent respectively. Oreo, however, leveraged its presence on Instagram, a platform with 27 percent engagement despite having just one-tenth the branded posts of Twitter. Marketing intelligence firm Origami Logic evaluated the social media presence of 65 brands during March Madness and gave Oreo an engagement score of 54,539, which was about 20,000 points higher than the second-place brand. Just two creative Instagram dunking posts generated over 31,000 likes.

Buffalo Wild Wings

Image via Flickr by Gerald Angeles

This wings-themed restaurant chain made the most of its hash tag #WingWisdom campaign on YouTube. The campaign mocked the idea of watching the games at home and ordering pizza. Buffalo Wild Wings, an official NCAA sponsor, branded itself as the “Official Hangout” for tournament games and poked fun at fans who ordered in. “Do these pizza people bring you rounds of beer, walls of television, and fried pickles?” The company explored this theme with a series of eight YouTube videos that were viewed by millions of people.


Nike is a social media giant, dominating across all channels, most especially with its Instagram account. But their March Madness marketing campaign was sheer genius. Their “Passion Ignites, Intensity #Counts” campaign leveraged the benefits of cross platform marketing and optimized the hashtag #Counts in all its social campaigns. Even Buzzfeed lauded Nike’s school by school campaigns as one of the most successful March Madness campaigns.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

According to Origami Logic, KFC was the second-most engaged brand during the NCAA tournament. KFC engaged with the March Madness audience primarily through Facebook; one of its posts about using failed brackets as a napkin generated an amazing 36,000 likes. According to Kohki Yamaguchi, an Origami Logic executive: “The most important factor for brands in driving event activation is whether they can establish a connection between their brand or product with the excitement around the event.” KFC managed it with aplomb.

The best sport marketing campaigns are products of collaboration between a savvy sport management professional and a creative marketing team that understands its brand and target audience.