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2018 March Madness Roundtable

2018 March Madness Roundtable

3 Minute Read


·         March Madness acts as a platform for NCAA players to build their personal brand.

·         The tournament increases college basketball players marketability as it propels them post-NCAA as future endorsers of Tier-1 brands, and historically, has proven so with athletes such as Steph Curry.

·         Matthew Soteroff and Justin Firth sit at the roundtable to discuss March Madness breakout stars and what it means for the players.

The March Madness excitement is at a high as the 2018 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament approaches the final games. The 68-team tournament is based on single elimination rules which will quickly determine the winning team of the NCAA 2017-2018 season. Marketers and fans become heavily invested within this tournament as the NCAA produces some of the most notable players such as Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose.

Matthew Soteroff and Justin Firth are some of MKTG’s most passionate basketball and March Madness fans. We decided to sit down for a roundtable discussion regarding the importance of this tournament to college athletes, how March Madness can increase a player’s marketability and some breakout stars this year.

Why is March Madness effective for college basketball players to build their personal brand?

Matt: March Madness is one of the few events in the sports calendar that is a cultural touch point for people of all demographics; nearly every office in North America has a bracket pool and given the frequency of the games, fans of the sport get to know the players and coaches, their personalities and story lines over the course of the tournament.

Justin: For a lot of these players, the March Madness tournament is the first opportunity to put their talents, personality and story in front of a national audience. The media, interviews, pregame shows allow North American audiences & brands to meet the stars of the future for the first time.

Matt: Basketball as a sport lends itself to fans wanting to engage more with players – we can see their faces and the emotions that they feel throughout the game and therefore, fans take interest on a much more personal level than perhaps other sports. The vast field of competitors is also very conducive to attracting fans who can become devoted fans with very little effort/time commitment. People quickly decide to root for a team for many reasons: they attended the school, visited the city, picked them in their bracket, love the mascot or simply want to see an underdog make history. Regardless, the tournament is an simple concept to understand, and is very easy to become obsessed with for any level of fan.

Justin: Hitting big shots is only half the battle as showing an outgoing personality and ability to be future brand ambassador is closely monitored. It can also be an audition to what life under the pressure and limelight of the NBA will be like for many of these young kids.

What are some historical examples of college basketball stars who increased their marketability during the March madness tournament? How did it impact their future careers as endorsers?

Matt: “Steph Curry – In his sophomore season at Davidson, Curry burst onto the scene with his seemingly limitless range as his small, 11-seed school defeated Georgetown and Wisconsin en route to an appearance in the Elite Eight. Curry then had another strong showing in his junior year and entered the NBA draft – by this time, he was a consensus lottery pick and had a significantly raised profile thanks to his incredible March Madness performance. He is now one of the most popular and marketable athletes in the world.”

Justin: VCU (University)/Shaka Smart & FGCU (University)/Andy Enfield - Both coaches have been able to move to top level schools (USC & Texas) and have become marketable faces brands look to when trying to associate themselves with college basketball. Shaka Smart has been able to transition this into some on-air appearances as well when his team was not playing. In 2013, the school’s No. 15 seed basketball team scored consecutive upsets over Georgetown and San Diego State University to reach that year’s Sweet Sixteen. The Fort Meyers school suddenly found itself in the national spotlight. Annual donations rose from an average of $15 million per year to $27 million. Out-of-state applications increased 80 percent and the school was able to raise game ticket prices.

Matt: Kemba Walker – The point guard for the University of Connecticut Huskies was unbelievable in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The Huskies limped into the Big East Tournament after losing 4 of their final 5 regular season games and Walker put the team on his back – carrying them to 11 straight wins through the Big East & NCAA Tournament, winning the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament. His small statute, clutch performance and hard-nosed style of play caught the eye of many scouts, as he was drafted 9th overall by the Charlotte Hornets (for whom he is now the team’s best player) and also caught the eye of sponsors – as he was the first member of the 2011 draft to sign a shoe contract, doing so with Under Armour.

Justin: Buddy Hield – He has hit huge shots and had a high three pointer percentage. He has a very interesting story as he is a senior star from the Bahamas with a fun personality. He received a multi-year partnership with Nike following his college career due to his performance.

Which players broke out this current year and will attract future sponsor interest because of it when they likely go pro next year? 

Matt: Marvin Bagley – While the Duke Blue Devils failed to make it past the Elite 8, Bagley helped raise his draft stock and brand due to the heightened attention paid to his university (Duke) and the general consensus that the team failed to leverage his skills enough in their Elite Eight loss to Kansas. Look for Bagley to be drafted in the top 3 in this year’s draft and make an instant impact in the NBA.

Jordan Poole – Swaggy Poole – As a Freshman, and not likely to be drafted in this year’s draft, Poole raised his profile significantly by hitting a buzzer beater to defeat  Houston in the second round and then was seen having a dance off with Michigan coach John Beilein following the Wolverines’ Elite Eight victory over Florida State. His personality has carried him to notoriety rather than his draft stock; he can expect to be amongst the most notable players in the country if he returns to Michigan next season.

Justin: Shai Gilgerous-Alexander - He is a Canadian 6’ 6” point guard who helped the Kentucky Wildcats get to the Sweet Sixteen. Shai became the 1st freshman with 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in an NCAA Tournament game since Chris Paul did it in 2004. This will translate to many opportunities (especially north of the border) if he can transition this performance and notoriety into a successful first few seasons in the NBA. Shai is also One of the most talked about stars in television panel discussions & viewed as a someone that is quickly rising up NBA draft boards .



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