April 7, 2024

Fans vs. Brands: Is March Madness Just Another Money Grab?

March Madness is undoubtedly the epitome of college basketball. Consuming an entire month with its unforeseen heartache, improbable Cinderella stories, and gut wrenching battles between powerhouse teams, this NCAA basketball tournament might even be the epitome of college sports. Sixty-eight teams, three weeks, and a war to be the best. Despite such perfection at hand, it appears certain stakeholders are seeking to change the March Madness we all know and love.  

ncaa basketball tournament

Potential Expansion

For the first time ever, there is an internal push for an expansion of the tournament. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey recently voiced his opinion, promoting expansion alongside awarding more bids to power conferences and less to weaker ones. The surprisingly popular model poses greater opportunities for brands and viewership money. It could also prevent witnessing another No. 16 seed defeat a No. 1 seed like with Farleigh Dickinson and Purdue—something that brings the “madness” to the March tournament. This expansion tradeoff will likely diminish overall fan interest in the tournament while opening the cash floodgates, leaving many to wonder if March Madness is just another money grab.

The Bigger the Better?

There is no universally decided final bracket. However, some expansion predictions would increase the size of March Madness to an astounding 96 teams, adding almost an additional 30 teams to the tournament. While adding more teams makes the tournament more inclusive, it also poses huge implications.

Many fans already dismiss the first four games in the current bracket. Expanding it could worsen this issue without offering significant financial incentives. TV providers may even resist expansion, fearing it would dilute the NCAA basketball tournament's appeal and reduce overall popularity. After all, what excites viewers most about March Madness is that it is reserved for the elite. However, one factor could sway opinions: bids. Power conference commissioners often advocate for more bids, making expansion seem more practical. With more prestigious teams, there's potential for more exciting matchups and increased viewership, something the networks could get behind.

ncaa basketball tournament

The College Football Problem

While money is essential to any successful product, college basketball faces an even greater challenge: college football.  A larger tournament would need to start earlier, forcing the regular season to follow. Games would be thrown deeper into a period where football is already getting almost everyone’s undivided attention. This challenge arises as the College Football Playoff gains momentum, having recently secured a lucrative 6-year media rights deal with ESPN worth $7.8 billion. It's difficult to envision any positive outcome resulting from this clash of schedules.

Final Considerations

There will always be those for and those against an expansion, and for good reason. Sports would not be where they are today without evolution. Those for the expansion are all about inclusivity: bigger has always worked for the NCAA. If the tournament is at its best now after so much expansion from an initial 8 teams, then why stop? College football is also used as an argument–  over half of the teams find their way to bowl games, making it unfitting for just 20% of college basketball teams to make their tournament. Those against the expansion contrast the early days of March Madness and its recurring expansions with the reluctance to make changes in recent years, signaling perfection has been found. Whether in favor or against the potential expansion, the elephant in the room remains: is March Madness just another money grab?

Sources:

  1. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/ncaa-basketball/news/march-madness-expansion-adding-teams-ncaa-tournament/ac81f6b376fcc921a8993fe2
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2024/03/25/ncaa-tournament-expansion/
  3. https://apnews.com/article/march-madness-expansion-8e7a9c029bf12f6261538750cab4c9a5
  4. https://www.si.com/college/gonzaga/basketball/should-the-ncaa-tournament-expand-its-field
  5. https://blog.opensponsorship.com/leveraging-athlete-partnerships-in-march-madness-for-brand-exposure
  6. https://talksport.com/sport/1775517/ncaa-march-madness-college-football-playoff/

Stay in the loop.

Enter your email to sign up for the Athelo Group newsletter.
menuchevron-down