The biggest misconception about the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, also known as “March Madness” is that it’s all about basketball. It’s not. If it was, fans would watch a lot more college basketball between December through March.
So, what is it about?
In a word, it’s about “community.”
Start with the annual rite of filling out a bracket. You see that line-up of those 64 teams, and you venture to predict how the whole tournament will unfold. People are captivated with the potential for some “Cinderella team” to emerge and beat a dominant powerhouse.
It’s no accident that the unlikely winners that emerge are called “Cinderella teams.” The story-telling aspect of the tournament is built in. Whether your team’s favored to win or not, or even if you have no particular favorite, the tournament has all the makings of a fresh re-telling of the kinds of stories that made movies like “Rocky” or “Hoosiers” or “Remember the Titans” so compelling.
Join the Crowd
When you fill out a bracket, you are joining millions of people across the country, from all backgrounds and certainly all levels of basketball expertise, to do the same thing at the same time. That’s called shared experience, and it’s the most powerful thing if you want to build a community. It’s one of the most effective ways to deepen a relationship. Shared experience is a group of friends going through college together, or war together, or perhaps simply growing up in the same neighborhood.
Everyone doing the same thing at the same time, yet each coming away with his or her own version of that experience, that memory. So, when they get together, they tell each other what it was like for them. This is bonding.
Of course, March basketball brings people together in other ways. There are the college communities that come together in support of their teams. Alumni join the party, either physically together, or simply by showing their school pride at work, at home, with friends or family.
Coworkers enjoy the rivalries of rooting for their own teams and all of the camaraderie that goes with it.
And while not at the same level as the Super Bowl, the NCAA “Final Four” is a major sporting event that draws people into sports bars, living rooms and game rooms across the country for parties and get-togethers.
And like your favorite Netflix series, it’s got serial appeal. To fully immerse yourself into March Madness, you have to commit to following the first rounds on one weekend, the second set of rounds (“Sweet 16” and the “Elite Eight”) the next weekend, and of course, the Final Four and the National Championship on the third weekend.
Needless to say, if you pick a solid bracket and there’s money involved, you could come away with a few bucks after that final buzzer. So, there’s that.
We live in a world where each of us controls and chooses the media we consume or the experiences we have. Two people can be in the same room, at the same table, and thanks to smart phones have totally different, distinctly exclusive experiences.
March basketball is different. It’s one of those rare times of the year where so many have a real opportunity, and still take advantage of it, to enjoy shared experience on such a scale.
A break in the winter doldrums, shared experience, and maybe even some basketball. It’s the March recipe for building community. In sports and in marketing, there’s nothing that comes close.
Who are you rooting for right now? Let me know.