3 Ways Colleges Promote Their Brands During March Madness

Weslie Oeftering
3 Ways Colleges Promote Their Brands During...

The month of March is full of exciting events. Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, SXSW – March has a party for everyone. However, none of these events take over the news cycle quite like March Madness. According to the NCAA, over 97 million Americans tuned in to watch last year’s tournament, and millions of others watched internationally. Additionally, they earned nearly 70 million impressions across all NCAA social media platforms. Securing one of the coveted 64 spots is an opportunity like none other for a college to promote their brand. This post breaks down all the tools at a college’s disposal to do just that.

The Mascots

Gonzaga Spike the BulldogWhether a school’s mascot is a person, an animal, or neither, it is usually front and center at a March Madness game. And, because evert mascot is different, they are a great way to set the tone of a college’s sports program. For example, UT Austin’s mascot, Bevo, is undeniably just plain cool. The same is true for Gonzaga University’s Spike the Bulldog. However, unlike UT Austin, Gonzaga has significantly less name recognition outside of their basketball program. Therefore, Gonzaga’s only time to shine on the national stage is during March Madness, so they need a Bevomascot like Spike to make the school as appealing as possible – both on TV and to the fans in the stands.

The Student Section

On that note, what the fans at the game are doing is also important. When you can hear fans yelling their signature chant over the announcers and the players’ squeaky shoes, rather than just yelling, it sends a message about how passionate students are about their school. KU's Wave the WheatBecause March Madness is so popular, it’s not impressive for all the stands to be filled, so school’s use their signature chants to help set them apart from the average crowd.

Take the University of Kansas’s “Wave the Wheat” chant. It sounds silly, but when done well it is actually pretty intimidating. It’s effectiveness at riling up the crowd and intimidating the opposing team isn’t just luck, though. At the beginning of each semester, KU holds a Traditions Night that all freshman students are invited to attend. There, they learn all the chants and fight songs that KU has in its wheelhouse. That way, the first time they attend a game, they know exactly how to root for the Jayhawks. It’s that kind of pre-planning that has helped KU’s basketball team create and maintain such a stellar brand with a loyal fan base. That’s really saying something considering how rare it is to find a Texas Longhorn like me willing to compliment a Big XII rival. For the record, that’s probably the nicest thing I’ll ever say about KU.


Let’s say you have no desire whatsoever to attend the University of Louisville. But after seeing Jennifer Lawrence at a March Madness game, you are suddenly much more interested. Unless they have sideline access like Matthew McConaughey, then celebrity alumni showing up to a March Madness game wearing a school’s colors is mostly luck. However, it still reflects positively on the school. If Golden Globe and Academy Award winners have the time to fly all the way out for a basketball game, then their time as a student there must have been great. It is the exact same principle as a celebrity endorsing Covergirl or Pantene in a commercial. If they like that school, then it must be a nice place to go to college.

These are just a few of the ways that colleges can use March Madness to promote their brand. Even though only one team can win the tournament, all 64 have something to gain.

About Weslie Oeftering: Weslie is a student at The University of Texas at Austin and Swyft’s resident PR and marketing intern. She supports clients with social media, blogging, and tech PR activities. Swyft is a tech PR firm in Austin with offices in Denver, Houston and Antwerp that provides PR services and trade show media support for tech companies around the world. Some of their services include media relations, content and inbound marketing, CPC campaigns, and marketing automation consulting.

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