Madness for Sale: Businesses Go for a Piece of NCAA ‘March Madness’ Basketball Tournament

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There’s just no stopping the madness. From Hooters restaurants to businesses selling books for homeschooled children to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, everyone seems to be pursuing a marketing tie-in to March Madness, a.k.a. the NCAA basketball tournament.

This week, the nation’s attention turns to the college basketball tourney—if not the actual games, at least to office pools. It’s a costly time for American businesses; by one estimate, the loss in productivity due to the tournament will run a total of $134 million just on Thursday and Friday. Any time an event is on the minds of millions of American consumers, there will surely be businesses seeking a piece of the action. Here are some examples:

The Bracket Racket
The NCAA’s bracket format lends itself naturally to a series of face-to-face vote-offs on the Internet. Just substitute products, or movies, or even regional hot dogs and sausages, and wah-la! You’ve got a customized bracket that (hopefully) will be a magnet for clicks on your site, as viewers vote and check in—and probably, reveal lots of personal data that’ll help your marketing efforts further—throughout the course of the tournament.

(MORE: March Madness Will Cost Businesses $134 Million. Why Aren’t Employers Concerned?)

The Consumerist’s “Worst Company in America” tournament has been taking place for years, but it’s hardly the only one. Last year, in meta joke fashion, the Atlantic put together a bracket of brackets, in which Internet viewers voted for their favorite oddball brackets, from Worst Sci-Fi movie to Jezebel’s Sex vs. Chocolate showdown (the missionary position won, beating out brownies in the final), and beyond.

This year, among the many brackets seeking your attention are some fairly straightforward ones, like the battle for the best sitcom at Vulture.com and the best music single of the past year at Billboard.com. Redbox, meanwhile, has a Movie Matchup, and picking winners yields points that can be used for free movie rentals.

There are also curiously specific vote-offs, like the top player in Houston Rockets history at Bleacher Report and the Cooking Channel’s best college eats competition. Speaking of food, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council asks you to vote for your favorite regional sausage link—Kielbasa, Mortadella, Chicago hot dog, and so on. Even NASA is hosting a bracket-based tournament, with voters asked to pick the top photos of earth. Forbes has gone the goofball route with a fun Jargon Madness tournament, in which business clichés ranging from “rock star” to “make it happen” face off.

Mad Restaurant Deals
All the TV viewing due to the NCAA tournament translates into a lot less cooking—which is great for takeout and sitdown restaurants alike. To vie for sports fan dollars, restaurants can be relied upon to roll out March Madness promotions, such as 50% off all pizzas ordered online (with code 50FF at checkout) this week from Domino’s, and “Hooters Hooky,” which consists of food specials at Hooters meant to entice you to play hooky from school or work and watch games there.

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Little Caesars has a $5 large pepperoni pizza special, as well as a unique Crazy Bread offer: If something crazy happens in the tournament—specifically, if a #16 seed beats a #1 seed in the opening round—every family gets a free order of Crazy Bread on April 8. Pizza Hut is also taking a gamble, offering anyone who signs up for the chain’s Hut Lovers loyalty program a free medium one-topping pizza if all #1 seeds reach the tournament finals.

And it wouldn’t be tournament time if there weren’t restaurants trying their own hands at a custom-made tournament for marketing purposes. California Tortilla’s Elito 8 Tournament features eight “teams” (Pulled Pork BBQ Burrito, Korean BBQ Tacos, etc.) in a vote-off that’ll determine which one will wind up on the chain’s limited-time menu. Likewise, Outback Steakhouse has a “TourneyTizers” final four, with a vote-off to see which appetizers will be given free to customers on upcoming nights.

Shopping Madness
What do designer watches, wheelchair-accessible vans, and books designed for families that homeschool kids have to do with the NCAA basketball tournament? Who knows. But they’re among the many companies that apparently think “March Madness” has a ring to it, and they’re holding themed sales accordingly.

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Malls around the country—Brownsville, Texas, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore.—have also been hosting special “March Madness” promotions, though at least these have some connection to basketball. For instance, there might be a free throw shooting contest, for free.

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