How to Make Money Off March Madness

March Madness
Chad Cooper under Creative Commons

March Madness, the NCAA’s spring basketball tournament, has a bad reputation in many workplaces. The first major rounds of play take place on a Thursday and Friday, with back-to-back games for most of our waking hours. And even if your office doesn’t have a TV to crowd around, you can be sure there’s not a whole lot of work getting done in those two days.

It’s time to turn around the assumption that companies are going to lose money during March Madness. With a bit of advance planning and critical thinking, your business can attract basketball megafans.

After all, 68 college teams are chosen to begin the tournament, meaning that students and alumni from 68 schools around the country are interested in the outcome of the games. From a business perspective, it can be way better than the Super Bowl, which has a long playoff schedule to whittle the field down to just two teams.

Here are some event tie-in ideas that will help make up for any lost hours at your business this Thursday and Friday.

Release a Product or Plan an Event Tied to the Tournament

Lexington, Kentucky brewery Alltech Brewing & Distilling Co. released a limited-edition “Platoon Pack” just in time for the tournament. With three bottles each of Alltech’s new Kentucky Blue Ale and Kentucky White Ale, Wildcat fans are bound to be scrambling to grab this beverage for viewing parties.

What if product development isn’t your thing? Carpark Records founder Todd Hyman happens to be a huge basketball fan, and he tries to plan parties and events for the label in March. This year’s event: A Sweet Sixteen party.

“Technically, we’re not quite at sixteen,” Hyman told DCist, “but this is the year we have our sixteenth anniversary.” At 10 or 15, an anniversary party would be expected. But a sixteenth anniversary party during March Madness? That’s definitely a sweet surprise.

Your takeaway: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to offer a product or plan an event tied to March Madness. A limited-edition version of a fan favorite or a seasonal offering that reappears each year around the tournament will help consumers make the connection.

Expect Madness

March Madness means major foot traffic for pubs and sports bars. Buffalo Wild Wings, which offers many screens so fans can watch the big game of their choice, plans to offer limited-time menus and daily sports contests in its restaurants during the tournament.

The chain expects to beat last year’s chicken wing sales during March Madness — 94 million wings! CEO Sally Smith told Crains that managers would be keeping close tabs on traffic and sales trends throughout the tournament.

Your Takeaway: Even if you don’t like basketball, it’s your job to make sure your eatery is ready for an influx of customers this week. Remember that as more people cut the cable cord and ditch television service altogether, they may be planning to spend the afternoon or evening out to watch the games.

Order extra wings, boost your Wi-Fi and have your suppliers on alert in case you need a quick reorder. Even a coffee shop might see groups of fans poring over their brackets and checking scores while enjoying their morning joe.

Welcome the Competition

Washington social services organization Hopelink has hosted Can Madness each year since 2010, pitting 64 local businesses against each other in a bracket just like the one used in the in the NCAA tournament — but for social good.

Customers and employees are encouraged to contribute canned goods and other nonperishables to their favorite competing business. The first week of this year’s Can Madness competition brought in more than 7,000 pounds of food that was later distributed to local food banks, along with $850 in cash donations.

Your Takeway: You can benefit from a little madness even if you don’t own a bar or athletic-minded business. Use the spirit of the tournament to collaborate with neighboring businesses or other local organizations.

More March Madness Ideas

Still wondering how your business can get involved in the excitement? Try one of these ideas:

  • Host a viewing party during the first two days of the tournament. Invite clients or customers, set up a TV (or two, or three!) and encourage attendees to wear their team colors or gear. Even if your employees aren’t at their desks, they’ll be building relationships with your clients.
  • Did your alma mater make it onto the bracket? Hang a pennant or other team sign in your office or business window. You might be surprised how many fellow alumni you’ll meet! Keep an eye out for opportunities to network — and maybe even build your business.
  • Are your employees asking to run a bracket pool during the tournament? You can allow a little bracketology without exchanging cash, which can cause legal issues. Have your company sponsor the competition instead, by buying lunch or awarding a gift basket to the winner. Share updates on the status of your internal contest by offering updates on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Don’t forget to use a hashtag!

Still stumped? Consider simply holding a themed sale. You could also offer a discount to alumni of winning schools (or losing ones, if you want to be nice) on whatever you sell.

Your Turn: Has your business cashed in on March Madness or are you planning to take advantage of the competition this year? Let us know how!

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