Four Lessons from ESPN’s March Madness Livestream


During March Madness this year, ESPN’s infamous sports personality Bill Simmons is streaming pre and post game commentary for free on Youtube. The stream isn’t of the basketball game itself since the rights to that footage is exclusively owned by CBS and Turner, but is of Bill Simmons’ house with other notable sportscasters like ESPN analyst Jalen Rose and writer Rembert Browne. This livestream will take place throughout the March Madness finals, which extend from March 19th to April 8th for 2013.  

According to Simmons,

“We want this to feel like a looser, more irreverent studio show. Like a live podcast where people feel like they are hanging out with us while watching basketball. I have no idea if this will work but we like trying new things at Grantland. … the only way we know if something will be successful is by trying.

We will talk about things that I assure you none of the traditional shows will be talking about. Office pools, gambling picks, what we are eating, etc. I can also promise you no other studio show has their mother cooking all day Thursday an Italian feast for everyone to eat on Friday’s shows.

At the end of the day this really is just a convoluted way of getting ESPN to pay me to watch basketball with my friends. Oh — and now I can write off part of my man cave on my taxes.”

( Source: all

So why should you care?  If your business has nothing in common with basketball or media, then this just seems like an interesting curiosity with no real business value. However, this innovative move by ESPN holds some valuable lessons that are applicable to businesses of all sizes and industries.

#1. Emotional Appeal and how it works

Big events like holidays or sporting events have great potential for special business promotions or campaigns. A portion of ESPN’s fans are undoubtedly avid watchers of the NCAA tournament finals, but they are not associated with the game because their competitors own the rights to the footage. By becoming associated with March Madness directly, the positive feelings fans feel towards the game can then be transferred over to Bill Simmons and ESPN as a whole.

Although this is greatly simplified model, it highlights the major objective of emotional appeals.

  1. Fans feel very strongly about a certain person, event, or object. In our case, this is March Madness.

  2. Your company positions itself so that it appears to be deeply connected with March Madness or basketball. This results in a lot of short term gains, such as fans who will eagerly participate and share your themed content because of their strong loyalty for March Madness.  If you are hosting an event or a webinar, this could translate into higher participation rates.

  3. Even after the event is over, the pleasurable associations between your company and March Madness still subconsciously exist. Any future thoughts about March Madness may have a chance of triggering the memory of your company, as well as a feeling of happiness.

  4. Be warned that this works in reverse too. If you screw up, people will associate your company with failure, and it is very difficult to escape this mindset.

Remember that these rules apply to more than just March Madness and work for holidays or events for any business.

#2. Consistently Communicate with your Followers

One important component not mentioned in the news article is the social media interaction going on during the broadcast itself. In between sessions, Bill Simmons posts the next time the stream would restart, as well as a link to the event itself on Facebook.

Bill Simmons also used Twitter through @Grantland to keep followers posted about what they were talking about during the stream itself.

Most importantly, he asked fans to submit their questions they wanted him and the other sportscasters in the stream to answer. This empowers fans and makes them a part of the entire experience.

This takeaway is particularly important if your business is running an event like a webinar or a Q&A session: always keep a line of connection open with your followers. By giving them a channel of communication, they will become much more engaged with your promotion.

#3. Use Social Media to Promote your Business

What if your business isn’t hosting an event and just wants to associate your brand to an upcoming holiday or event?  Social media can still be useful for attracting new fans and engaging old ones. While Bill Simmons and ESPN focused their social media efforts during the event itself, businesses can go a step further and use social media to promote their brand before the event even starts.

How social media can be used by your business depends on how much time and money you are willing to invest. On the lowest level of investment, a social media post about the event in general can start to get people talking. Try to be as creative as you can in incorporating your brand into your social media content. Wendy’s does a great job of using social media without spending a fortune.

A higher level of investment could center around promotions or sales tailored for specific events. Reese’s used a vote contest combined with a promotion to get more attention. It is simple, easy to understand, and blend Reese’s product seamlessly with March Madness.

If doing a promotion or a sweepstakes, be sure to tie the prize back to either your business or the event itself. This will help keep the promotion memorable in the minds of your followers.

#4. Pick your Battles and Find your Niche

Now that your business has a plan in place, it is critical to make sure your efforts don’t go to waste by positioning your promotion or service away from direct competitors. ESPN does this masterfully by only having pre and post game commentary, with minimal commentary during the actual game.

As a result, fans can watch and listen to Bill Simmons during down-times while focusing completely on the game itself without interruptions. If ESPN tried to compete directly with NCAA by only having commentary during the game, fans would be forced to split their attention between the two programs. In the worst case scenario, many fans would ignore the stream and just focus on watching the game.

If you are not the market leader in your industry, don’t try to directly challenge the leader if you do not feel your business is ready. If customers are forced between your business and the market leader, they may just opt for the latter. Pick battles you know you can win to maximize the results from your promotions and events.

Setting up a comprehensive social media promotions campaign has never been easier.  Take a look at  Wishpond’s social media promotions today and see it for yourself!


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