Should Selection Sunday Become a Prime Partnership Opportunity?

Should Selection Sunday Become a Prime Partnership Opportunity?

The best performing brand partnerships are successful because they help address a need for the rightsholder and improve the experience for fans, participants and audiences.

Observing the fallout from this (and previous) year’s NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship tournament selection decisions, it is tempting to see Selection Sunday as a problem in search of a solution—a solution that potentially could be provided by a corporate sponsor.

The process of determining the 68 teams that will participate in the tournament inevitably leads to some seemingly deserving schools being left out of March Madness. This year’s victims include Oklahoma, Pitt, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s, all of which won at least 20 games.

Here is what one coach said to ESPN, “To me, the whole thing is kind of a shell game. In the end, it just comes down to what the committee values. I just don’t understand how a Providence team that can beat Wisconsin in the nonconference, Creighton, Marquette and have those quality of wins and not get in. How does Seton Hall do what they did in the second-rated conference in the country and win 13 games and not get in? How is St. John’s so far off the cutline too?”

That was not a coach from one of the programs that was denied entry. It was top-seed UConn’s Dan Hurley, and to anyone in search of areas where sponsors can provide value, it sounds like a request for help.

Tech sponsors such as IBM, Dell, CDW, Oracle and others have provided services and solutions that have drastically improved multiple operations areas and systems for numerous rights holders. It’s certainly possible that a similar partner could assist the NCAA in applying machine learning or other solutions to the selection process as a way to remove the subjectivity of human decision-making.

But is it likely to happen? Despite the potential improvement to the process and the huge amount of exposure a brand partner could amass as title sponsor of the NCAA tournament selection and bracket, the odds are against such a partnership for the following reasons.

Doesn’t align with the NCAA partnership model. The successful 12-year-old multimedia and sponsorship rights partnership between CBS, TNT Sports and the NCAA groups the organization’s 18 brand partners into Corporate Champions and Corporate Partners levels. The program does not carve out proprietary inventory for individual partners, so an exception would have to be made for a brand to align specifically with the tournament selection process.

Eliminating controversy is not guaranteed. Inserting AI or other technology is arguably a step in the right direction to making the selection process fairer and less subjective, but it is not a cure-all that would magically eliminate bad feelings on the part of schools left out of the Big Dance.

Too much downside. Becoming involved with a critical and sensitive area such as tournament selection carries a much higher risk of backlash for a brand than creating a new app or stadium operations platform. The potential of fans directing their anger at the technology that kept their team out of the tourney would cause many players to steer clear.

Chaos isn’t all bad. Disputes over who should and shouldn’t be dancing is part of the madness of March. Sanitizing the process won’t necessarily equate to improving it in many people’s minds.

So for now, the NCAA and corporate marketers will leave the use of AI to fans who feel they need help in filling out their pool brackets.

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