March Madness is a big deal, and not just for student-athletes.
March is one of the biggest months for engagement on college sports pages, and March 2023 saw 160 million actions across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, the highest-ever total for the category.
These March numbers aren’t just large relative to previous years, college sports as a category is competitive with other leagues on social.
Source: Comscore Social, Metrics & Trends, US College Sports, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Mar 2023
The men’s tournament started off with huge engagement levels, with nearly 4.5 million actions on the 18th on NCAA’s owned page alone. This was mainly driven by bracket-breaking upsets and shocking plays.
@marchmadnessmbb FDU Head Coach Tobin Anderson believes in his players to pull off a UMBC #MarchMadness #MBB #CBB #CollegeBasketball #Basketball #Hoops #FDU #TobinAnderson #Purdue ♬ original sound - March Madness
@marchmadnessmbb What are chances of this happening?!?! #marchmadness #collegebasketball #mbb #cbb #basketball #ncaatournament ♬ original sound - March Madness
Towards the end of the tournament, the focus shifted more to gameplay and final results. Though engagement slowed a bit as fewer teams were left on the bracket, there were still nearly 2 million daily engagements at the end of the tournament.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by NCAA March Madness (@marchmadnessmbb)
A post shared by NCAA March Madness (@marchmadnessmbb)
For the women’s tournament, there was almost a completely opposite trend. Posts saw lighter engagement in the beginning but ramped up at the end to surpass the men’s engagement. Much of this was driven by the exciting final games featuring LSU and Iowa and their star players Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark.
@marchmadnesswbb We did it coach! #nattychamps #nationalchampions #lsu #lsuwbb #kimmulkey ♬ original sound - marchmadnesswbb
@marchmadnesswbb Inside scoop! #marchmadness #wbb #wfinfour #iowa #iowawbb #caitlinclark #dallas ♬ original sound - marchmadnesswbb
While some of the top teams on social, like LSU and UConn, were also the top teams in the tournament, others resonated strongly with their audiences to make it to the top of the charts even if they did not make it to the finals.
San Diego State
Comscore Social, PowerRankings, Custom Category including college basketball teams, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, March 14 – April 4, 2023
On social, several teams, key players, and the NCAA itself took advantage of partnerships with brands and they ranked among the top branded sports posts. Angel Reese’s partnership with TurboTax, for example, performed 5x better than the average for branded posts by sports teams, leagues, and athletes. Some of the top posts:
View this post on Instagram A post shared by ANGEL REESE (@angelreese10)
A post shared by ANGEL REESE (@angelreese10)
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Zia Cooke (@z.loading_)
A post shared by Zia Cooke (@z.loading_)
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Caitlin Clark (@caitlinclark22)
A post shared by Caitlin Clark (@caitlinclark22)
While social media earns millions of engagements for teams online, it is impossible to discuss the tournament without taking a proper look at where it all begins, on television.
Both the men’s and women’s tournaments saw strong ratings throughout the tournament, with both earning their highest ratings for the championship games. The ratings climbed throughout the length of the tournament, with Final 4 or championship games earning three of the top five spots in both the men’s and women’s tournaments.
Despite the highest ratings overall being earned in the later rounds, earlier rounds of the tournament earned substantial viewership as well.
Michigan State earned the highest ratings across the first two rounds of the men’s tournament with 4.8, and 10.4 respectively. In the later rounds, it was the games involving the Connecticut Huskies that drew the largest audiences, with ratings peaking in the championship game as over 1 in 10 households tuned in.
In the women’s tournament games, Iowa drew the largest viewership, with games involving the Hawkeyes earning the highest ratings in four of the six total rounds. The highest of which came in the national championship where they fell to Louisiana State University, with an average live household rating of 9.5, nearly 3 times higher than the next best ratings earned by Ohio State and Connecticut in the Sweet 16.
This is especially true for basketball. Just because these teams and players aren’t professionals, does not mean they don’t have appeal to a large audience. After all, the LSU women’s team had more engagement in March than major franchises like the Detroit Lions, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the New York Mets. And for the largest games of the men's tournament, 13% of the country tuned in.
Events like March Madness bring together people from across the country, whether they’re students, alumni, sports bettoers making brackets, or just sports fans looking for more basketball to watch. There’s a tremendous opportunity for brands and media to partner with the college sports industry, and it is certainly one to watch going forward.
Actions - The total number of actions (reactions, shares, comments, retweets, favorites, loves) the specified property receives during the defined time periodRating - The percentage of the household universe that viewed the classification (network, telecast, ad, etc.). Calculated by dividing the average audience by the total TV households in the selected market(s)