Hail to the NCAA’s Earned Media Victors

The Set-Up

The University of Michigan absolutely dominated the NCAA Tourney this year. There’s really no two ways about it. No one else stood a chance. I think the two big stat lines on the night are 24,800 to 1,200 and 55 million. Unbelievable numbers!

Photo of Final Four scoreboard

The Twist

Okay, so the men’s basketball team may have fallen a little short in the big game. However, the University of Michigan itself was the big winner. If you look at what the school earned in exposure, media coverage, merchandising and conversations, no one came close to Michigan.

Tweets Generated: 24,800 to 1,200

Social in Sport put together a good analysis of the social media strategies employed at Louisville and UM. Louisville chose to be more restrained in coverage, probably because they don’t have dedicated Twitter handles for each sport. So, as not to overwhelm followers uninterested in basketball (though, I honestly doubt there are too many Cards out there with only a passing interest in basketball), they chose to separate their content across two handles: the main athletic department (@uoflsports) account and the social media director’s account (@ulflyingcard). No one who follows those handles expects play-by-play coverage or other in-depth basketball info, so they had a challenge of how to cover the Final Four and which content to push through which handle. They only sent out 51 tweets throughout the championship game, most of which were pre-game photos of the team or venue. There was no one sending much in the heat of the moment, thus missing out on chances to spread the message. Louisville saw a total of 1,200 retweets throughout the evening.

Michigan, on the other hand, has established a Twitter handle for most of their sports. People who are interested in football can follow @umichfootball. Those interested in basketball can follow @umichbball. Content expectations are clear for the consumer, so there’s a greater chance followers will welcome the message and spread the really good stuff. Michigan’s basketball handle has twice as many followers than Louisville’s main athletic account. @umichbball shared similar pre-game content; however, they actively manned the account throughout the game. They shared play-by-play and commentary on the match, which also allowed those who couldn’t see the game to follow it in real-time. On only 97 tweets, the Michigan basketball-only handle had 24,800 retweets.

If you’ve been following closely, that’s 20 times the amount of retweets from only two times the amount of tweets!

That’s a lot of earned media.


The tournament run brought a lot of media coverage and exposure, too. Joyce Julius & Associates think that Michigan received up to $15,000,000 in free exposure from people seeing jerseys, watching coverage and hearing the brand name from the announcers during the game. If you include TV news, highlight programs and internet articles, that total climbs to $40 million. That’s $55 million in media.

I think the numbers are still a little low. Those in the stadium for the game, or just walking around Atlanta, saw the Block M on almost every street sign, light pole and bar door. There were thousands of people walking around in Final Four t-shirts that had each team’s logo on them. Cups, t-shirts, hats and all the rest of the mementos that people brought home will live on for years. I happened to drive down to Atlanta and back for the game, and I know a lot of people were exposed to the brand just by being on the road with me and my fellow Wolverines!

I’m sure merchandising and licensing from the series will equal $8 gazillion dollars, too.

Eternal Optimism

In the end, the men’s basketball team achieved a whole lot for the University. In addition to keeping the fan base on the edge of their seat for several months, they significantly increased the school’s effective media budget. I know they really just wanted to win that last game, and this will serve as no consolation in lieu of another banner in Crisler, but some of us ad geeks dig and appreciate it.

I think we should hang a banner in our office for their awareness achievements. Go Blue!

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