Does March Madness make a social impact?
Industry News, Philanthropy

Does March Madness Make a Social Impact?

With Cinderella teams, upsets and competitive match-ups that captivate the entire country, the NCAA’s March Madness Tournament may be the most exciting time of year in sports. More than $10.4 billion is wagered on the tournament each year according to WalletHub, and studies say that a lack of production at the office each year during tournament time equates to a loss of about $6.3 billion. 

2018 March Madness- the Year of the Underdog

This year has arguably been the craziest March Madness ever. With top seeds falling in every region, it really is the year of the underdog. The number 1 overall team, the University of Virginia Cavaliers (UVA), lost to 16 seed University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers (UMBC) in the biggest upset in the history of the men’s tournament (Harvard Women’s Basketball pulled off this feat against Stanford in 1998).

Schools that can pull off the upset experience plenty of benefits off the basketball court. According to JohnWallStreet, UMBC garnered $119 million in exposure in just 24 hours after their stunning take down of the anticipated championship contender Cavaliers. The bookstore has sold double their yearly average of online merchandise sales in just the last few days. The school’s athletic department Twitter account grew from 5,000 to over 91,000 followers. If the trend continues as it has for past bracket buster teams, the school will see at least a 16% enrollment increase next year, to the tune of $3.5 million.

What part of those benefits goes back into the community?

How does all this upside from the tournament affect the communities that they are hosted in? Forbes reported that when Houston hosted the Final Four in 2016 they were projected a $300 million economic gain. This year’s host city is San Antonio and they are expected to receive a $153 million economic boost from hosting the Big Dance. Besides paying back taxpayers for the costs of bidding, it looks like most of the money went into government programs and existing major city expenses.

It is surprising that there are no “official charity partners” of March Madness given the huge exposure opportunities that the tournament provides across the country. The tournament and the amount of buzz around it is a great opportunity to show the power of sport for good. March would be the perfect time for university athletic departments to teach their young athletes about the true power of their brand and how they can use their influence to make a social impact in the communities around them.

The biggest impact that the March Madness tournament seems to have is the impact on the schools themselves. We mentioned the impact that this year’s stunning upset had on the UMBC Retrievers. That has been replicated at schools across the country whose teams participate and win big at the tournament. The question is, how do we incorporate a model that funnels some of these tournament benefits into sustainable community impact projects?

How can the NCAA add in a March Madness social impact component?

The NCAA has the power to make a difference while making a large profit. They could start mandating community days for players and coaches in between tournament rounds. The Association could create a partnership with a different non-profit during each different round of the tournament to raise awareness. Whatever direction they decide to go, the NCAA needs to consider creating a social impact arm for their most popular event.

Schools should also start thinking about taking matters into their own hands. Things as simple as donating merchandise proceeds from the campus bookstore for the month of March to a local charity can make a big impact. For longer term impact, universities and athletic departments can partner with a non-profit organization throughout the year that fits their mission and focus. This way the work they do can be highlighted and promoted during the tournament to gain awareness. 

While it’s not common, social impact surrounding March Madness is very slowly starting to take shape. NCAA Division II’s Ferris University Men’s Basketball team took a visit to Sonia Sotomayor Elementary School in South Dakota where they were able to make a difference during their Elite Eight trip. The Division I Big East Conference has also recently announced their first annual Food Drive Challenge. This initiative encourages Big East fans to donate food online to be shipped straight to their local Big East school. This adds a fun element of competition between the Big East rivals and their fans.

Is anyone else using March Madness to promote social impact projects?

There are definitely those outside of the NCAA and its member Universities who are taking advantage of the March Madness buzz to support worthy organizations across the country. Brackets For Good has found a way to raise money for hundreds of nonprofits using the popular March Madness bracket concept. Organizations are matched up together at the city or state level and compete through fundraising. The organization with the most donations ($1 = 1 point) during that round advances to the next one and is one step closer to the $10,000 grand prize that the winning organization takes home. But both organizations keep the money that people donated in competition- win or lose.

It’s high time that the NCAA’s March Madness Tournament uses its brand and extensive influence to make an impact in the community. The amount of exposure and economic benefit that comes from the tournament cannot be ignored. Whether it is from the NCAA themselves, or from the university, team or athlete level, there needs to be a social impact component of the NCAA tournament. The social initiatives should be a joint collaboration between schools, teams, athletes and the NCAA themselves to ensure its authenticity.

However they decide to do it, one thing is for sure- giving back needs to be a top priority on the NCAA’s March Madness 2019 to-do list.

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