The first and second rounds of March Madness are a uniquely American cultural and social experience cemented in the fabric of American sport. The NCAA has a loyal base of fans who prioritize their budget and schedule to travel significant distances to attend the first weekend of the tournament.
Graduate students in Dr. Jay Gladden’s Applied Research Methods course conducted a fan experience study for the NCAA during the first and second rounds of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in Indianapolis. The research team collected ethnographic data from 20 fans through 30-minute interviews and hourly text message prompts. The target focus of interviewees were repeat purchasers who made the decision to buy well before Selection Sunday. These fans are valuable to the NCAA because they are loyal repeat purchasers from the NCAA platform, willing to travel, prioritize their schedule and budget for the event, and they recruit others into their social circle to attend with them.
The most significant pain point the research team identified was that fans felt disconnected from the full March Madness experience. Making the choice to sit in the venue without access to meaningful and relevant information about the other games in the tournament left fans feeling excluded from the overall March Madness experience. Fans sacrificed the unique experience of following all the games in the first round to attend the sessions. A key finding is that people want to celebrate the entire March Madness experience with friends and family in their group and also with other college basketball fans.
Fans unanimously clamored for more information on other games in the tournament. They wanted to see more highlight packages, better visual presentation and access to score updates, more updates from the studio, and even live look-ins to other games during periods of down time. Fans realized there are periods of down time (i.e. halftime, between games) and screens (i.e. concourses, video board, scoreboards, ribbon boards) where the information they crave could have been offered.
A variety of technological failures and limitations prevent fans from accessing this content through the March Madness on demand app, such as poor wi-fi connectivity, small data plan, app not working for unknown reason, not having a data plan, not owning a phone, forgetting the phone, running out of battery, not enough or unaware of charging stations, or needing to multitask with phone.
In sum, fans want to be a part of the entire March Madness experience, not just the game in front of them. They want to be connected to the other games through access to relevant and timely updates on scores and highlights. But they also want to be connected to each other through a unique social experience that celebrates the greatness of March Madness.
The research team recommended adding unique experiences for the fans in the venue in the same way the NCAA has aggressively pursued unique experiences for the home viewer with the app, March Madness on demand, and live broadcast of all games on four different television channels. The gap between the in-game experience and what can be experience at home is increasingly significant and will only continue to grow as fans experience March Madness in new ways with virtual reality. As technology continues to proliferate the variety of ways in which we consume sports, the event will see increased competition away from venue.