Each year, the number of college basketball fans that flock online to view games for March Madness continues to grow. Experian Simmons Data Stream confirmed that use of streaming online video among March Madness fans rose 23 percent from the start of the 2009 tournament through the championship game. In 2010, Unicast found before the tournament began that 44 percent of respondents planned to follow the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament online and that 54 percent of those people intend to catch the actual games live on the Web.
With so many of the early round games taking place on weekdays, many devoted fans search for ways to follow the action away from home, whether online at work or from their mobile devices. The increasing popularity of online video among sports enthusiasts has led broadcasters and programmers to provide more March Madness content at the touch of fans’ fingers.
Many fans rely on the Internet to track all aspects of March Madness, evident in the heavy search volume experienced this time each year, but how do they find the video and other content they desire? More than a quarter of Americans following the NCAA March Madness tournament go directly to the source at NCAA.com, while 17 percent will type in the URL for their favorite team on the court, according to Unicast. Twenty-two percent of fans looking for more information or ways to stream videos online turn to the search engines to gather the latest on the big tourney. Taking proper steps to make sure video, scheduling news and other extensive content is visible in both paid and natural search listings can make or break a brand’s ability to attract new rabid fans.
CBSsports.com, the official broadcaster’s site for March Madness, provides fans with the ability to stream any in-progress game online, even though CBS may be broadcasting a different game on television. Unicast also found that college hoops fans turn to other sources for online March Madness videos, citing ESPN.com (69 percent) and Yahoo Sports (42 percent) as favorite destinations for clips and highlights. With ten percent of March Madness fans catching coverage from a mobile device, several mobile applications have been developed specifically to cater to sports fanatics, giving them access to video highlights, final scores, and even the ability to trash talk with friends by connecting to Facebook or Twitter. CBS Sports’ March Madness on Demand paid app ($9.99) also offers live streaming video of all March Madness games right to a user’s mobile device.
The ubiquity and availability of online video enables viewers nearly everywhere to connect with their favorite sports online. For example, the global scale and interest of the recent Winter Olympics meant that many viewers around the world in different time zones were able to access various events on the Web. NBC, the official broadcaster of the 2010 Winter Olympics, met this need and capitalized on their Olympic coverage by providing plenty of content and videos of the games on NBColympics.com. NBC says it garnered 710 million page views and 46 million unique visits as it served up 45 million streams during the network’s coverage of the Vancouver Winter Games. The network also cross-promoted search engine Bing, telling audiences to search “Winter Olympics” on Bing for important dates, schedules, news and videos.
Online video also provides fans of niche or regional sports the chance to keep up with their teams more easily. For example, ESPN360 allows devotees of such sports as cricket or lacrosse (along with mainstream U.S. sports) to watch games in real-time, replay previous matches and access content remotely. This type of instant and convenient access to online video and information proves particularly crucial to dedicated fans that may travel frequently or live abroad.
As consumer sports media consumption increasingly shifts online, marketers continue to rally their resources to reach those millions of fans. The extra distribution is no longer optional for marketers, but instead, too substantial to ignore. As of March 9, CBS had already sold out its ad inventory for March Madness On Demand, its live streaming of all 64 games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, according to Mediaweek. Marketers should meet this rising demand by utilizing search and other online media to grow their audience and attract consumers to their content.
Altogether, seven-in-ten Americans planning to follow March Madness online or on a mobile device indicated they would turn to more than one destination on the Web (including the branded Web site, search engines and other online information sources). Online access to sports videos, whether highlights or complete live games, gives fans the coverage they want, when and how they want it. This offers brands the opportunity to connect with consumers, starting with video search and hitting them at various points along the way to provide them with the up-to-the-minute “madness” they crave during college basketball’s most exciting time of the year.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.