• Nic Makepeace

The Digital Final Four - how March Madness gives us a look into the future of sports content


Two years ago, my colleague Lewis Wiltshire wrote a blog on ‘Why smart digital professionals will be watching March Madness’. His tips on who to follow and why still ring true. But in two years, a lot has changed. The Cinderella teams, heartwarming personal stories, and thrilling games are still everpresent. But, what is ever-evolving is how digital is being used to tell these stories. Fans are seeing the future of digital content playing out before their eyes. Gen Z athletes and college digital teams are producing socially conscious and engaging behind-the-scenes content themselves, which allows fans to connect with athletes like never before. Below I’ve taken a look at what I’ve called the ‘Digital Final Four’. The four themes that have been central to this year’s tournament, and will only increase in importance in the coming years across the ‘professional’ digital sports landscape.

SOCIAL ISSUES We have seen, particularly in the last year, younger athletes increasingly using their profile and digital presence to push for change on a range of social issues. From Marcus Rashford to Naomi Osaka the new generation of athletes are bravely standing up and calling for positive change. This has been no different throughout this year’s March Madness.

Sedona Prince, who plays for the Oregon Ducks, made a particular stand about the standards of the women’s gym in comparison to her male counterparts. Her TikTok post ended up going viral, attracting support from both NBA and WNBA players including Kyrie Irving, Sabrina Ionescu, and CJ McCollum.

And through this stand Prince was able to create (almost immediate) change. This shows the true power that these Gen Z athletes can exert and will (hopefully) continue to exert in the years to come. From a digital perspective, it is telling that Prince used TikTok as the main platform to address these issues. With her then adding the post to Twitter after it started to gain traction on TikTok.

Prince initially chose TikTok as her mouthpiece - highlighting its importance as the native platform for many Gen Z athletes and consumers to voice their opinions, as well as to express their personality and impressive dance moves!

PLAYER-LED CONTENT While this is certainly not a new concept, March Madness has given younger athletes the opportunity to showcase their personalities in different ways on different platforms...

Syracuse player Joe Girard III here gives an insight into life in the March Madness bubble using TikTok when a player from previous cohorts would have likely posted this on Instagram Stories. This once again shows the different behaviours of the younger athletes. Teams are also leaning into a ‘player-led’ style, with the Michigan Wolverines letting their Center Hunter Dickinson take over for a behind the scenes look at what the players do on a day off.

With a light edit, this content places the players as the focal point giving it an authentic feel that allows the players’ personalities to shine.

BEHIND THE SCENES

With player recruitment often part of a College’s digital objectives there’s a key business reason for enabling behind-the-scenes access - to show off to potential recruits what life is like in that program. This is reflected in their Tone of Voice and the style of their content, for example, Gonzaga’s announcement of a player joining their team next season:

More tangibly during March Madness though, this approach to player access enables teams to give a much more personal and relatable feel to fans. The Oregon Ducks Men’s Team account can use exclusive video vs a stylised ‘Advance’ GFX, which helps them engage more with fans who are surely also dancing around their living rooms.


CONNECTING WITH FANS


This increased level of access and behind-the-scenes content allows college sports teams to connect closely with their fans. Take this example of the Texas Longhorns Women’s Team Coach Vic Schaefer giving an emotional speech from within the huddle after reaching the Sweet Sixteen.


This is really what sports are all about, isn’t it? And to have the access to actually bring fans into the huddle and take fans on that journey with the team is brilliant work from the Longhorns social team.

Digital content is ever-evolving, and it’s important to be constantly looking forwards and getting ahead of the trends. That’s why there’s no better place to look than at March Madness. With the Final Four still to come this weekend, keep your eyes peeled for these themes in action and if you ever want to have a conversation about future-proofing your organisation, please do reach out to us at Seven League.

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