Outside of a political election (and the Game of Thrones finale), few events whip Americans into a frenzy quite like March Madness.
Since its creation in 1939, the NCAA basketball tournament has become one of the most highly anticipated events in sports. In the course of just 3 weeks, 68 teams face off in 7 rounds to determine college basketball’s national champion, earning the tournament the appropriate moniker, “March Madness.”
It’s indisputable that Americans love the madness. More than 10.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the 2019 tournament, and about 10% of all Americans fill out some kind of office bracket to predict the tournament’s outcome.
Always the data fanatics, this got us wondering: How does March Madness impact consumer behavior, and which university has the most fans showing up on Amazon to purchase school merchandise?
To find out, our data science team analyzed 2019 and 2020 market demand on Amazon for college merchandise from the top 25 basketball programs of all time to learn how March Madness impacts consumer behavior and which university has the most dedicated fan base when it comes to buying gear to support their team.
Does March Madness stoke market demand for college merchandise?
Yes. In fact, consumer demand for college merchandise for the top 25 programs was up 18% during March Madness 2019 compared to the average the rest of the year. Interestingly, the holidays seem to have a more significant impact on consumer demand than the NCAA tournament. From November through December 2019, consumer demand for school merch was up 41% compared to the average rest of the year.
Federal, state, and local governments began to implement lockdowns and other social distancing measures just before the beginning of the 2020 NCAA tournament, which significantly impacted consumer demand for college merchandise throughout 2020. Consumer demand was down 45% year over year during March and April 2020 and down 19% year over year, overall. Despite the decrease in demand, consumers still turned up in droves to shop for college merch during the holidays in 2020.
Which historical top 25 program commands the greatest market share?
Among the top 25 programs of all time, fans of the University of Kentucky turned up in greater numbers on Amazon than any other program during March Madness in 2019 to purchase school merchandise. Wildcats fans accounted for 24% of the market share, followed closely by Duke fans at 22%, and more distantly by Notre Dame fans at 13%.
When combined, Kentucky and Duke fans commanded nearly half of all market share on Amazon for college merchandise during the 2019 NCAA Tournament (among the top 25 programs).
Does winning increase consumer demand for a school’s products?
Virginia, Texas Tech, Michigan State, and Auburn ran the gauntlet in 2019 to face off in the NCAA’s most coveted showdown - The Final Four. Texas Tech got past Michigan State and Virginia eked out a win over Auburn to meet in the national championship game. The ‘Hoos of Virginia would not only go on to win the 2019 title, but their fans would show up in greater droves on Amazon than would any of their Final Four counterparts.
Which top program experienced the biggest lift?
No school from the historial top 25 experienced a bigger lift in consumer demand on Amazon in 2019 than the University of Kentucky. Demand for Wildcat gear was up nearly 3x during the 2019 NCAA Tournament compared to the average demand the rest of the year.
Ohio State, which sees its greatest lift during the football season, experienced the biggest decrease in demand during March Madness. This, despite the Buckeyes actually being in the big dance in 2019, goes to show that not every team that makes the NCAA Tournament experiences an increase in consumer demand for its school’s branded products on Amazon.
A lesson for brands
From our data, it’s clear that significant cultural events like March Madness can significantly increase demand for products that help fans express themselves and feel connected to the organizations they are most passionate about.
Understanding the factors that influence consumer behavior can help brands better understand how to forecast demand for their products on online marketplaces, and even inform product design.
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