With college basketball tipping off this week – conveniently, right in the heart of 2023 budgeting season for many brands – urgency among marketers to plan their involvement in the festivities is now palpable.
For those unfamiliar with the phases of the college basketball season, an exciting slate of non-conference matchups and showcase tournaments highlights the first several weeks of the season, just before slowing down slightly around finals week and heading into December’s holiday season. From there it’s conference games (with a few non-conference matchups mixed in) through the beginning of March, followed immediately by conference tournaments and, of course, the NCAA Tournament. This year’s events culminate in the Women’s National Championship game on April 2nd, and the Men’s National Championship game on April 3rd.
Though spanning the entirety of six months, time tends to fly by and marketers delaying their planning are often left behind by their more proactive competitors. There are undeniably distractions on brands’ calendars between now and March/April – notably holidays, the College Football Playoffs and the Super Bowl (and, not to be forgotten, “National Chocolate Fondue Day” on February 5th) – but, given the level of excitement surrounding college basketball, it’s wise to be involved and pertinent to begin planning as soon as possible.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when getting a head start on NCAA Tournament planning.
Allow athletes ample time
As most know, college athletes maintain grueling schedules and experience little down time, especially when in-season. Given the demands of school and their sport, it’s often impossible for them to agree to collaborate with a brand if they’re contacted within a few days or weeks of deliverables being due.
Marketers hoping to work with basketball athletes during the season or Tournament should solidify those arrangements now, and allow the athletes a considerable amount of time to plan their production of content around their crowded schedules. Even if this means content is ready to go in December or January and isn’t published until March, it’s the most accommodating approach for athletes and will help to avoid any crunch time chaos (or reliance on a buzzer beater, if you will) – so a win-win.
Don’t limit your talent pool
While more media attention may be granted to the men’s season and Tournament, fans’ attention – according to social media statistics – is well-balanced among male and female basketball players. Those thinking the pageantry and excitement only pertains to male teams and athletes are simply not viewing the data and understanding the necessity for advertisers to balance their efforts to achieve optimal outcomes.
Men’s basketball boasts hundreds of notable names heading into the season – particularly a strong freshman class. However, not to be overlooked are several bonafide stars within women’s college basketball. Athletes like Haley and Hanna Cavinder at Miami, Jada Williams at UCLA, Casey Ferguson at South Alabama, and, of course, Paige Bueckers at UConn, are setting the social media pace for all of collegiate athletics, and are joined by fan favorites and emerging stars like Maddie Scherr at Kentucky, Myra Gordon at Alabama, Alexis Morris at LSU, and hundreds of others garnering attention and engagement from thousands of admiring fans.
[Below the article we have included several names to watch this season]
Allow personalities to shine bright
Given the limited number of players on the floor at any given time, the ability for fans to see athletes’ faces and emotions (as opposed to sports like football, where helmets obstruct fans’ view), and the generally-higher amount of individuality expressed by athletes, basketball is unique among other sports for its propensity to involve the most entertaining and delightful personalities.
When collaborating with basketball players – or any athlete, for that matter – it’s important for brands to embrace the traits that make them popular among fans (beyond their otherworldly athletic skills, obviously). Brands with historically-rigid influencer briefings or one-size-fits-all approaches to talent engagements should consider more open-ended requests that utilize and empower the interesting personalities of the athletes they’re hiring. Performance tends to increase as the amount of prescriptive commands decreases, and it’s possible to allow creative freedom without sacrificing the inclusion of important brand guardrails.
A few athletes to watch out for this season, on – and especially off – the court:
(in alphabetical order)