“March Madness” is one of my favorite times of the year. The beginning of the NCAA Basketball Tournament signals that spring in the Northeast is just around the corner. I have had the opportunity to attend three “Final Fours” and numerous regional games. “March Madness” is an exciting three weeks of college basketball filled with upsets, buzzer beaters, mid majors and the eventual crowning of the National Champion. The tournament has other great brand terms “Sweet Sixteen”, “Elite 8” and the “Final Four”. Marketers yearn for great names like “March Madness” to make their products stand out.
The term “March Madness” was first used to describe the NCAA Tournament in 1982 by none other than Brent Musburger. It appears that when Brent talks people listen. As well all know the term caught on. In the beginning, there was no promotional strategy behind using “March Madness” to market the tournament. It just happened organically. Over time CBS has made the phrase ubiquitous and an integral part of their promotional strategy.
The term “March Madness” traces its origin back to the Illinois’ statewide high-school basketball tournament, which began in 1908. In 1939, an official with the Illinois High School Association, Henry V. Porter, penned an article called “March Madness” for the organization’s in-house magazine. “A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel,” he wrote. Porter could not have predicted the impact the term “March Madness” would have on college basketball fans and bracket pools.
The NCAA and the Illinois High School Association eventually went to Trademark Court over the name and the settlement led to a joint venture between IHSA and NCAA, called the March Madness Athletic Association (MMAA) which now holds all trademark rights to the term “March Madness.” In fact, they own federal registrations containing that term, covering everything from the actual tournaments to broadcasting and webcasting the tournaments to mugs, T-shirts, towels, and even carbonated soft drinks. The IHSA controls the name on the high-school level, while the NCAA has a perpetual license to use the phrase in connection with its (much larger) collegiate tournament.
What was your favorite “March Madness” game?