Wondering how the 2023 March Madness hype played out online? As the college basketball tournament gains more fans each year, the digital conversations surrounding it hold a lot of insights for sports industry brands. We used our social listening solution to look at what NCAA Division I basketball tournament topics got everyone’s keyboards clattering.
But First, What is March Madness?
March Madness is the annual championship basketball tournament for teams in the top competitive tier of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the main governing body of college sports in the United States, as well as some schools in Canada.
Happening primarily during (you guessed it) March, the games draw millions of television viewers every year. This year’s women’s Final Four was ESPN’s most-watched ever, drawing 4.5 million viewers per game and rocketing to 9.9 million viewers for the final. On the men’s side, about 9.4 million people watched each of the semi-final games. (Final numbers for the men’s final were not yet released as of this writing.)
Here’s some of what our social and media intelligence analysis found about the online conversation about March Madness this year.
From when the women’s and men’s tournaments began in mid-March through the finals on April 3 and 4, there were nearly 4 million mentions of March Madness-related keywords, phrases, and hashtags. About 170,000 of those came from Texas (where the finals took place), which racked up more mentions during the tournament than any other state. It was followed by California — home to the second-place men’s team, San Diego State — and Florida — which had two teams in the men’s Final Four, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami.
Interestingly, Ontario had the 23rd-most March Madness mentions, ahead of Alabama and New Jersey, which both had teams that advanced to the men’s Sweet 16 round. This may be because, according to the CBC, more Canadian athletes competed in March Madness this year than ever before. Laeticia Amihere, who hails from Mississauga, Ontario, even made it to the Final Four with the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Learn more about the rise of satellite fan bases in our 2023 Industry Snapshot: Sports.
Men’s vs Women’s
Following the trend of television viewership, there were more online mentions of the men’s tournament than the women’s. However, as the series advanced into its final games, there were three days on which the conversation about the women’s tournament surpassed the men’s, including during the women’s final game on April 2.
Interestingly, though the conversation of the women’s tournament was smaller, it included more mentions of the words “assists” and “rebounds”. This could suggest that people are more likely to talk about specific plays and teamwork in women’s college games, while conversations about men’s college games are more likely to mention shots and points.
Though the men’s tournament generated more mentions than the women’s, Iowa Hawkeyes point guard Caitlin Clark was mentioned 93,000 times during March Madness, more than any other player, man or woman. On the day of and after the women’s final game, conversations about Angel Reese, point guard on the LSU Tigers winning team, began to catch up with 31,000 mentions compared to 36,000 of Caitlin Clark, whose team came in second.
When it comes to schools, the home of the champion men’s team came out on top. There were 180,000 mentions of UConn (University of Connecticut) and another 35,000 of Huskies, the school’s mascot and team name.
Learn more about the top athletic entities in our sports industry report.
Often the top sponsor of March Madness teams, Nike and its brand Jordan sponsored 40 men’s teams and 44 women’s teams this year, according to the Sports Business Journal. That spread paid off in the highly-watched final games, with both women’s teams and the champion UConn men’s team sporting the famous swoosh on their jerseys. Meanwhile, UConn’s opponents, the San Diego State men’s team, displayed the arguably just as famous Jumpman logo. By comparison, Under Armour sponsored nine women’s teams and 11 men’s teams, while Adidas sponsored 17 men’s teams and 15 women’s teams.
With so much visual representation on the court, it’s safe to say that Nike was the brand that won March Madness. Our logo detection comparison analysis shows just how large that win was. Throughout the tournament, Nike’s logo was featured more than those of the other sponsors in images across news, blogs, and Reddit.
Without a doubt, March Madness 2023 shows just how much attention and interest college sports draw in North America. With Meltwater's social intelligence solutions, marketers and brands are better able to get in on the conversation.
Interested in learning more about rising sports industry trends across the world? Download our 2023 Industry Snapshot: Sports to get the latest data and insights.