This year’s NCAA basketball tournament was exciting for a variety of reasons – history-making games, bracket-breaking upsets, and amazing plays. For brands and marketers, it was also an exciting opportunity to reach a highly engaged audience in a fun way and to discover emerging influencers to partner with in the future as they grow in their athletic careers.
Major brands like Degree, Pizza Hut, Aflac, Wilson, and Dollar Shave Club partnered with the NCAA March Madness Men’s Tournament account itself for campaigns, with a total of 90 thousand actions in March.
Degree x NCAA March Madness, 23.7k actions
Pizza Hut x NCAA March Madness, 12k actions
Source: Shareablee Partnership Explorer, NCAA March Madness, Total Actions, 3/1/2022-4/5/2022
Other, often smaller, brands sponsored teams directly, totaling over 316 thousand actions. Some of the highest performing partnerships included J Ferg Pros and EMW Digital with Texas Tech Men’s Basketball, Doterra with BYU Basketball, Capitol Federal Savings Bank with Kansas Men’s Basketball, The Woodhouse Auto Family with Nebraska Basketball, and Brookshire Brothers with Texas A&M Basketball.
J Ferg Pros x Texas Tech Basketball, 10.7k actions
Capitol Federal x Kansas Men’s Basketball, 7.1k actions
Source: Shareablee Partnership Explorer, Custom Category, Total Actions, 3/1/2022-4/5/2022
The major appeal for brands partnering with collegiate athletic teams is the opportunity to reach a hyper-localized market. Odds are that most fans are in or near the city where the university is located, or at the very least have some connection to that area.
These teams also have a lot of visibility and engagement on social media, even if they do not get the same coverage on a national level as professional sports. UNC Men’s Basketball was the #13 U.S. Sports Team by social media engagement in from 3/1/2022-4/5/2022, topped only by a select few professional basketball, baseball, F1, and esports teams. It is also worth noting that the teams who won the men and women’s tournaments were not necessarily the teams performing the best on social media.
Source: Shareablee Power Rankings, Custom Category, Total Actions, 3/1/2022-4/5/2022
One major change this year is that student athletes can profit from their own personas, following changes in the NCAA NIL policies in 2021. This means brands can set up influencer deals with the actual players, not just the teams.
We saw student athletes in both the men’s and women’s tournaments take advantage of this new policy with brand partnerships and influencer campaigns on social media. Top sponsors include Buffalo Wild Wings, Continental Tire, TIAA, and Great Clips. There were not as many partnerships with students as there were with teams or leagues, but as the NIL policies are so new, sponsors, athletes, and universities are still working out the details of how deals should work. That said, athlete posts sponsored by brands racked up 104 thousand actions, more than the NCAA had itself.
Buffalo Wild Wings x Doug Edert, 34k actions
Continental Tire x Collin Gillespie, 14.5k actions
Great Clips x Cameron Brink, 9.5k actions
TIAA x Sedona Prince, 6.4k actions
Why should brands consider partnering with student athletes for campaigns? While they might not have the same following as athletes in professional sports, their audiences are extremely engaged with their content, especially during an exciting time like during or immediately after the tournament when they are top of mind. On average in March, athletes playing in the NCAA tournament this year had more actions per post than athletes in the NFL, MLB, WNBA, or NHL. These athletes also are a great partner for brands looking to reach Gen Z, as they themselves are a part of the younger demographic.
Brands deciding which athletes to partner with should consider not just how many people follow the athlete, but also how engaged those followers are.
Source: Shareablee Power Rankings, Custom Category, Total Audience, 3/1/2022-4/5/2022
Source: Shareablee, Custom Category, Actions Per Post (CP), 3/1/2022-4/5/2022
Source: Shareablee, Custom Category, Audience (CP), 4/5/2022
If you would like more details about any of the insights included in this post or would like to find out how you can use data to select the best influencers and brand partners, contact our team here.
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Actions (CP): The total number of actions (reactions, shares, comments, retweets, favorites, loves) the specified property receives during the defined time period across the combined space of Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.
Actions Per Post (CP) The average number of actions made on posts, tweets and media by the specified property during the defined time period.
Audience (CP) The number of people who have opted in to the specified property’s content across the combined Facebook, Twitter and Instagram social handles.
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