Five reasons why the 2010 NCAA Tournament is the biggest event in the history of social media


Everyone has their own unique preferences when determining which sporting event is the greatest. Many people prefer the Super Bowl, other traditionalists believe the Fall Classic is the best event in sport while I'm sure there's more than a few odd individuals who think that title should go to the Daytona 500. The debate is impossible to settle but it'd be difficult for anyone to refute the uniqueness and spectacle of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. 65 teams, single elimination, an endless number of storylines.

Going beyond all of that: the Big Dance is tailor-made for the era of Twitter, Facebook and blogging, much more than any other sport. That, combined with the timing, will make this year's Dance the biggest event in the history of social media. Quite the claim, I know, but here's five reasons why it could be.

  1. Social brackets. Yes, Facebook can take care of all your bracket needs. This isn't anything new, these were available four year agos, put out by Facebook itself, and sponsors took the idea and ran with it. CBS has its own 'App' on there. Now why is this important? It makes an already somewhat painless process even easier. Now, it may be easy for the sports junkie in your pool to sign onto Yahoo and fill out a bracket but Suzy from sales and your sister Beth need something a little easier. With Facebook, it's easy to fill out and simple to track as the tournament progresses because you're already logging on there everyday anyway. The more people filling out brackets, the more people who have a rooting interest in every game. And of course, that means more people talking about it.
  2. Free online video. It's impossible to overstate how big of an issue this is. NBC, take notice. This will be the most talked about sporting event of the year, undoubtedly one of the most valuable commodities in broadcasting, and CBS is giving it away for free. From a technology and media coverage standpoint, this is the foundation for the tournament's outrageous popularity. Plain and simple, people can't become raving fans (of the tournament itself, not any particular team) without being able to see it. With the timing of the event, and most people being at work, CBS has found a way to bring the content to the viewers instead of forcing the viewers to come to the content.
  3. The 'watercooler'. This is, by far, the biggest reason why the Big Dance will be bigger in the world of social media than other live events. So far, live events like the Super Bowl and Oscars have received their highest ratings in years and the conversation taking place on social media may be largely to blame. Now, examine those two events. They take place on the weekends and are often watched in a social setting. The tournament is different. Millions of people sitting at work, already on their computers, will tune-in online for free. So access to discussion is no longer limited to anyone who felt the need to pick up their laptop while watching from the couch, everyone is already on their computer, talking about their bracket, getting news from other games and, hell, they may even be checking out what Simmons has to say.
  4. Sponsors are catching on. It's no longer a secret, social media+live sports=ratings bonanza. Obviously, there's money to be made here and the sponsors are looking to take advantage of that. Marketers have tried to take advantage of this social media/sports combo in the past but they've had time to refine their approach. So not only will fans already be at their computers, sponsors will be attempting to drive them towards using social media. Could lead to even more discussion.
  5. The players/teams are all on it. The 2010 NCAA Tournament will have the highest percentage of athletes on social media than any other major sport. This isn't a definitive fact, but think about it: 90% of college athletes have Facebook and a significant portion which are jumping on Twitter as well. Unlike professional atheletes, a majority of these athletes do not have endoresments to worry about, they don't have a significant amount of media training. Now, this could be the ingredients for disaster, but it could also bring an unprecedented level of access. Last week, after Wofford advanced to the tournament for the first time ever, I congratulated their point guard Cameron Rundles, who I covered at Montana before he transferred. Shortly after, I heard back. It's not much, but it's a new level of access and interaction. Now, you'll also see inhouse media staffs armed with Flip cameras take advantage as well. Brace for a full-on social media blitz from adept teams as the tournament progresses.

Now, it's difficult to see what impact this will have on how sports are covered but it will be very interesting to watch as social media gradually becomes an integral part of how sports are discussed and covered. Online, the NCAA Tournament will be bigger than the Super Bowl, the Oscars or any Apple presser. Enjoy.

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