After the pandemic forced its cancellation at the end of the 2020 college basketball season, March Madness is making a comeback in 2021. While there will be some changes to the way the tournament is played—from the lack of in-person fans, to the adjusted schedule, to plans to hold the entire tournament within the state of Indiana—the televised experience figures to be more or less the same in years’ past.

That’s great news for businesses hoping to advertise during the weeks-long tournament and align their brand with one of the most exciting months in sports. While sports audiences struggled to acclimate to the stacked scheduling and competing interests brought during the early days of the pandemic, there’s optimism that a return to regular sports scheduling—marked by the decision to play the March Madness tournament in March, rather than delay the games—combined with the end of the U.S. presidential election cycle, will make it easier and more appealing for audiences to tune in.

And with those audiences forced to watch games from home, rather than in-person or in large groups, advertisers have an opportunity to reach engaged audiences through not only cable TV broadcasts, but through a wide range of engaging digital channels. Here’s a look at four ways local businesses can take advantage of this opportunity and achieve their "one shining moment" this March.

1. Take a Multiscreen Approach as Second (and Third) Screen Usage Tips Off

Perhaps no televised sporting event prompts second-screen activity as much as March Madness. Part of this trend is practical in nature: With so many games going on at once, many viewers will set different TVs and devices to different games, allowing them to track multiple events at the same time.

At the same time, the NCAA itself has invested into this second-screen experience through the creation of its March Madness Live app, where users can stream live video, access on-demand content, and receive personalized notifications and recommendations to guide their viewing experience. These content engagement options exist on top of established second-screen experiences like social media, where fans can engage with one another and access supplementary content and commentary during the game.

With such diverse advertising options available, local businesses have more flexibility in choosing, where, how, and when to engage their target audience—and how to maximize their ROI, as well.

2. Lean into the Opportunity of Reaching Viewers Watching From Home

While the decision of whether to allow a limited number of fans at games will be made closer to the start of the tournament, the majority of March Madness audiences will be watching the games from home. This gives your business added advertising options when choosing how to target your audience through your ad strategy.

In particular, local businesses can target die-hard college basketball fans with confidence that they’re watching the games from their homes, rather than at a local game or watching in a crowded venue. This increases the engagement potential of this content, and creates opportunities to leverage cross-channel engagement that refers audiences from one content channel to another—or even directly to your brand’s website.

3. Be Aware That Big-Brand Competition May Create a Buyer’s Market

Given the economy upheaval created by the pandemic, some big brands have been scaling back their advertising budgets. Despite prevailing research that shows it’s smart to maintain or even increase advertising during economic recessions, dozens of major brands backed out of Super Bowl advertising earlier this month.

This decline in big-brand participation could be a good omen for local businesses, especially when bidding for ad space amid a less competitive landscape. Fewer potential buyers could depress the prices of this ad inventory, giving your business better value for its advertising spend—and raising the ceiling for your ROI.

4. Use Social Media to Insert Your Brand Into the Conversation

Live events are a wellspring for content and audience interaction that happens off-the-cuff, based on the unfolding of those events. Social media is the epicenter of this online engagement: Game-winning shots, controversial calls, and underdog stories are just a few of the storylines that create buzz around March Madness—and this buzz can help your business leverage more organic reach through your social platforms.

Creative commentary, fun social contests, and other types of social engagement can increase your visibility during this peak digital event, and even help your business even viral exposure if your commentary strikes a positive nerve with your target audience.

Successful advertising around a major televised event requires a carefully constructed strategic plan to maximize your spending and engagement across many different channels at once. Make the most of this opportunity by developing this strategy with the help of a trusted digital advertising partner—contact us today to learn more.

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