How brands are shaping mobile strategy around the college basketball championship

By Jonathan Crowl

TV consumers might be frustrated with slow-to-adapt cable subscription models, but the annual college basketball tournament has actually moved ahead of the curve in how it delivers its experience to fans. Although most of the tournament’s games are broadcast on cable channels, all of them are available in some form through mobile streaming options.

With more and more millennial fans using mobile video to watch the games, brands are being forced to rethink their mobile strategy and advertising for the tournament. In 2017, mobile streaming options are only expanding, as is the overall audience, and mobile-specific video advertising is among many strategic considerations brands have to wrestle with.

However, this mobile strategy isn’t just limited to video. Emerging technology also plays a big role in shaping the enterprise approach to advertising college hoops.

Sign up for our newsletter
Stay on top of the latest mobile news and insights.

Streaming’s rise continues

Though college basketball streaming is most common among millennial consumers, millions of viewers use their mobile devices to keep up with the games, regardless of age. According to research from Think With Google, mobile’s share of viewers (in contrast to desktop devices) grows more significant with each successive round of play.

In response, media companies have been more aggressive about building mobile platforms that can better serve the mobile experience. This year, the official tournament app — which offers many of the games through streaming — is available on 15 different platforms. In addition, streaming cable alternatives such as Sling also offer many of those game-carrying channels in their own packages.

For advertisers, this mobile video consumption offers incredible value, both in terms of the volume of its reach and in the targeting capabilities afforded by digital ad space. Yet brands are also building mobile strategies that target other ways a fan might engage with the tournament. Static ads are being sold on apps that offer updates on games and related news, while media companies are busy creating content to target the considerable search traffic that takes place during and after those games.

Even so, streaming remains the centerpiece of the mobile college hoops experience, and video ads are seen as the most influential way to reach that audience. Consequently, brands are having to move around some of their marketing dollars.

Expanding mobile budgets

For companies whose target audience also happens to be big basketball fans, this tournament has always commanded a lot of advertising money. However, the proliferation of digital ad space displayed on mobile devices means that smaller companies can afford exposure to fans watching games streamed live.

Brands are also seeking campaigns that flex a little out-of-the-box thinking, which gives them a chance to generate positive engagement from college basketball fans. An extreme example of this is Pizza Hut, which used mobile IoT technology to create a pair of shoes that can be used to order pizza. Through location-tracking technology, the shoes can direct the delivery driver to exactly where the buyer is located, according to SB Nation.

This type of strategy isn’t practical by any means, but Pizza Hut is using this as an innovative marketing stunt that leverages mobile tech to increase brand awareness. Social sharing about the shoes has been a big hit even before the tournament, and it gives the brand an easy anchor for related marketing campaigns.

The digital assist

Of particular note in 2017 is the way other mobile technologies are getting involved in the larger experience. Apple TV is promoting interactive brackets alongside highlight packages from the games. According to Awful Announcing, Amazon’s in-home digital assistant Alexa will offer functionality that updates fans on the scores of the games throughout the tournament. Alexa will also offer radio play-by-play through a partnership with Westwood One.

These technologies are secondary to the primary experience of watching the games live, but they strengthen the experience nonetheless by making it more accessible and amenable to a wide range of situations. Even if you aren’t able to sit down and watch the game live, mobile solutions offer a range of ways you can stay connected to the action.

Thanks to dedicated fans and a forward-thinking mobile initiative, the college basketball championship has become one of the signature events taking place on mobile devices.

Written By

Jonathan Crowl


Jonathan Crowl has served as a tech writer and reporter for a number of tech publications and corporations. Specializing in mobile technology and digital startups, he is based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Other Articles by Jonathan Crowl
See All Posts