College Basketball Tournament’s Most Important Piece of Paper: A Lesson in Content

It’s tournament time! With the college basketball season winding down, and the tournament starting today, it’s time for millions to sit and watch upset-after-upset-after-thrilling moment-after-agonizing defeat. As an avid college basketball fan, it’s easy to understand why I love this tournament. But I watch college basketball religiously throughout the year, so the fact that I believe this is the best time of year is not a surprise. However, why do so many, non-fans feel the same way?

Here's my favorite bracket ever, in 2008, when Kansas upset Kentucky for it all!

Here’s my favorite bracket ever, from 2008, when Kansas upset Kentucky for it all!

First and foremost, we have to start with the product. With the one-loss-and-you’re-done design of the tournament, there’s a feeling that every second counts, creating an edge of your seat experience that people can’t get enough of. Add in the passion of the players and coaches, and you can see why people suddenly find hope in an underdog, and spite for the favorite that wins out.

But beyond the product, there’s more to it. It has to do with the brackets. We all love filling out the brackets. We compare what we have to our co-workers, friends and families. We bet on who will win. We take pride when our bracket, which is only 42% correct, comes out as the winning one. We call ourselves experts, even as our grandma who couldn’t tell the difference between a 12 seed and a 2 seed, destroys our 42% with a 75% effort. It unites us and gives us something to talk about. It was an original social network. An it’s so niche, that it’s a social network where we only discuss basketball, picks, upsets and front-runners. We only discuss the NCAA. We only discuss college basketball. How many companies would love that same passion in their social efforts?

How does this come to be? After all, it started with a tournament of 8 teams in 1939 at a time that very few probably filled out such predictions. But now for decades, people have eagerly filled out such brackets in hope of guessing correctly. As far as I can tell, there’s no clear indication that someone has filled out a bracket correctly all the way through, although back when it was 32, 22 and 8 teams, the possibility seems much more likely than with the 147.57 quintillion possibilities that are available with today’s version.

And yet, we all fill it out because of the connection it creates. With that connection, college basketball’s prevalence and popularity in our culture has grown to unheard of heights considering it’s still less than 130 years old (remnants of baseball can go back to the 15th Century). While basketball is unique in that we have the original rules of the game jotted on paper, it’s easy to see why the bracket is the single most important piece of paper that college basketball ever produced because it provides a way for anyone, whether they play or not, to participate.

That’s an amazing accomplishment. And having that value-added, extra opportunity mixed with passion, has led to the tournament’s popularity, which helps, the NCAA and CBS, among other sponsors. All because someone realized the tournament needed a bracket. Amazing.

If you’re looking for a way to create passion, loyalty and a connection with your customers, offer them something that they want. Adding in something extra – whether it’s content you develop or a new media – that they can make their own, while sharing with others, can help you boom.

Who do you got this year?

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