There’s one March Madness juggernaut that no one has been talking about on sports talk radio. It’s not Kansas, or Syracuse, or even Duke… it’s Nike. The Nike basketball Twitter account announced just hours after the selection show that 49 of the 65 tournament teams would be wearing the swoosh, with three more sporting the Jordan brand. That means more than 75% of the teams are under the Nike umbrella.
Even more striking is the fact that every single team in the West Region is a Nike team, which assures the swoosh of at least one Final Four team. Here’s the breakdown by region (courtesy of @nikebasketball): Midwest – 10 Nike, 1 Brand Jordan; West: 16 Nike; East: 12 Nike, 1 Brand Jordan; South: 11 Nike, 1 Brand Jordan.
Nike’s contract with each university varies widely. With the millions of dollars in payments, equipment and apparel that they are paying to these schools, the national TV exposure that they’ll garner this weekend is their payback. On Thursday and Friday, Nike teams will participate in over 48 hours of basketball. Every time there is a close-up of a player diving on the floor after a loose-ball or lingers on a player getting ready to shoot a foul-shot, Nike executives will be cheering. The prolonged exposure is why those deals are signed in the first place. This weekend, Nike and Brand Jordan will reap the rewards of those strategic contracts.
This morning I listened to a prominent NCAA basketball coach talking about the prospect of the tournament expanding to 96 teams. He was very frank in his opinion (keeping the tournament at it’s current 65 teams), but was also honest about the fact that his opinion may be tainted by the fact that every one of his teams has made the tournament. If he missed a couple in a row, his vote might change.
I feel strongly that the tournament should NOT expand to 96 teams. How many of us out there can name 31 teams that didn’t make the tournament this year? Ok, several of us could do that, but now let’s think about 31 teams that we would want to see playing this weekend… that’s not quite as easy. Also, doesn’t it take a little bit of the cache away from making the tournament and devalue the regular season if all those the number of teams expands by almost 50%?
Now, gambling on the NCAA tournament is illegal. Luckily, just filling out a bracket is not. Most likely I will fill out two brackets. One with my heart (with Syracuse winning), and one with my head (Kansas). Thursday and Friday are those two infamous days of the year where employers lose billions of dollars on lost productivity. While it’s not technically part of my job, I’ll be keeping an eye on the games and social media simultaneously, to see what teams and brands are activating using those platforms. So, who do you have winning your bracket?