We’re certainly not “Mad” about the Madness finally being introduced.
Great news for college sports fans: a little over a week ago, the NCAA revealed that it would be using the “March Madness” branding method for the D1 Women’s Basketball Championship, effective in 2022. This move was made at the recommendation of a damning report commissioned by the NCAA, which outlined massive disparities between their treatment of the men’s and women’s tournaments.
“The brand recognition that March Madness carries will broaden marketing opportunities as we continue that work to elevate the women’s basketball championship,” said Lynn Holzman, the NCAA’s current vice president of women’s basketball. Holzman certainly has a point; if done right, adding the March Madness brand to the D1 Women’s Championship could be a financial and social boon to women’s college basketball as a whole.
March Madness was initially introduced as a way to generate interest in men’s college basketball only. Along with this new branding, the NCAA expanded the tournament from 8 teams to 68, hosted competition games in over a dozen different cities, and branded teams who advance deep into the tournament with their own special epithets (ever heard of the phrase “Final Four?”). The March Madness branding helped spark a massive industry around the yearly tournament, with huge ad buys, great visibility for the players, and even a popular side-game for fans to fill out brackets to predict the results against their family and friends.
All these factors mean that sports fans and executives alike take March Madness extremely seriously, so it makes sense that the March Madness brand might help people take the women’s tournament seriously too. Per Bleacher Report, March Madness bracketing severely impacts employees’ work productivity and attendance, and company owners are powerless to stop it. Now we’re not saying you should slack off at work, but a world where people were so dedicated to watching women’s basketball that they took time off of their job to watch games sounds pretty cool, right?
The excitement that March Madness generates can also encourage colleges to invest in women’s sports, albeit in a more roundabout way. The predictions-based nature of March Madness has led to the coining of the term “Cinderella story,” a phrase used to describe the process of underdog teams making surprisingly deep runs in the tournament and “breaking” many fans’ predictions. This study, published in the Journal of Sports Economics, suggests that not only do colleges see an increase in their freshmen enrollment rates after making Cinderella runs, but they also make approximately $7.3 million (in 2012-dollars) from their team’s overachievement. The introduction of March Madness to the women’s league will almost certainly lead to Cinderella narratives for certain teams. If these dark horse teams are so profitable, maybe D1 schools will invest more into their women’s basketball program in the hopes that their team will be the next “Cinderella squad.”
The women of NCAA basketball have been waiting for far too long for the branding that can help them thrive, and now it’s finally happening—there’s only a month left to wait before what’s sure to be a historic season begins. The first game slate, which includes match-ups between all 64 teams, takes place on November 9th. In the meantime, get excited, and, more importantly, get your brackets ready.