The calendar flip into March means the beginning of meteorological spring, later sunsets, and for sports fans, the imminent return of March Madness. 

With Selection Sunday just over 10 days away, anticipation is mounting for both the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. The latest CivicScience data show 41% of American adults report they’ll be watching the men’s basketball tournament at least ‘somewhat’ closely, marking a 10 percentage point increase from last year’s data. 

Polling data also finds the momentum on the women’s side of things is even stronger – one-third of Americans say they plan to watch the women’s basketball tournament at least ‘somewhat’ closely, representing a 16 percent point increase over March 2023. All-time NCAA scoring record holder Caitlin Clark is generating an unprecedented level of excitement for the sport almost single-handedly. But the buzz hasn’t stopped with her – women’s programs at schools both large and small who don’t compete against Clark’s University of Iowa team are also shattering attendance records of their own. 

In terms of reasons for tuning in, 45% of those who typically watch March Madness say they watch to root for either for their favorite school (27%) or the school they currently attend/their alma mater (18%). Nearly a quarter (23%) report they watch because they are fans of college basketball in general, while an additional 1-in-5 watch just to track their brackets.

Speaking of brackets, 20% say they plan to participate in some sort of NCAA basketball tournament pool this year, up four points from March 2023. 

Take Our Poll: Will you follow both the men’s and women’s March Madness?

Cord-Cutters Become a Noteworthy Force in March Madness Viewership

Viewership isn’t the only thing seemingly primed for an increase around the tournament this year. A look at how consumers plan to watch March Madness this year demonstrates the growing impact of cord-cutting. For instance, less than half of respondents report they’ll be watching the TV broadcast of the games, a 13-point drop from last year, while 29% will be streaming the games.

One area often overlooked that feeds into those TV broadcast viewers of the tournament? Antennas. In today’s dynamic media environment, TV antenna viewers, unlike streamers, lack real-time data coverage on demographics, viewing habits, and brand preferences. The new CivicScience Over-the-Air Audience Tracker provides adoption rates and an in-depth analysis of these consumers’ psychographics, attitudes, and behaviors. Click here to learn more. 

Will Advertising During March Madness Resonate?

While the cost per ad in March Madness games may not reach the heights of the Super Bowl, it still commands a significant investment for brands, ranging from hundreds of thousands to over $2 million. With audiences tuning in across various platforms and channels, securing advertising space is competitive. However, the pivotal question remains: do these ads truly resonate with consumers?

Data indicate mixed sentiment among consumers regarding the impact of advertisements during sporting broadcasts on their purchasing decisions. Nearly 3-in-10 Americans who watch sports indicate they are at least ‘somewhat’ likely to be influenced by ads during the games they watch, with 12% expressing they are ‘very’ likely to be swayed. Conversely, a slight plurality (38%) doubt the ads’ ability to affect their purchasing decisions at all. Thirty-two percent perceive ads during sports to carry a comparable level of influence as those seen during non-sports broadcasts.

It’s clear excitement for March Madness is building with less than two weeks to go. Can advertisers leverage the anticipated surge in viewership for both the men’s and women’s tournaments this year to target individuals who are receptive to advertising influence, and even convert those who typically remain unaffected by sports-related advertising?

Weigh-in: How often are your buying decisions directly influenced by advertising?

CivicScience can help you identify, target and win persuadable consumers thanks to our InsightStore™ database. Download our advertising eBook to discover how CivicScience can help your brand get ahead of the game.