So did you catch the March Madness excitement this weekend? No, not the tennis – sorry – but i’m talking NCAA basketball.
This weekend showed – er the last two weeks – why this 64-draw event is one of the best shows in all of sports. Upsets where everywhere, buzzer beaters almost non stop and the storylines aplenty. At the end of the day Sunday the tournament was left with zero No. 1 seeds in the Final Four – first time since 1980 – and Yannick Noah’s kid, Joakim, and his Florida Gators as the new tournament favorites along with UCLA, LSU and Cinderella George Mason.
What’s amazing is the parity in NCAA basketball. A team like George Mason, which many “experts” said should not even have been invited for the tournament made the most of their bid defeating storied franchises Michigan State, North Carolina and then No. 1 Connecticut yesterday, in an overtime thriller. GM also beat Wichita State Friday night.
So why do I write about this in a tennis blog? Simple. Tennis has virtually the same kind of event happening EVERY WEEK yet it goes virtually unnoticed by the general public!
This week in Miami there is a 96-draw event (32 more entrants than the NCAAs), plenty of great storylines, plenty of upsets, compelling action, guys/gals giving it their all showing their emotions on their sleeves, and heck, it’s on TV just about every day. Yet that event, like the one before it two weeks ago in Indian Wells, garners virtually zero press in the U.S. Okay, maybe a bit more than zero but it’s not even in the same league as the NCAA tournament.
But why such a difference the two event? Well, a couple things. First, it’s basketball. Hoops has a bigger toehold than tennis does here in the U.S. Not much of a surprise there. But then you ask during the season not that many people watch college hoops yet they all join together in big numbers in front of their TV sets for the March Madness “Big Dance.” How so?
Simple, again: BETTING. That’s right.
I would love to see a figure on the percentage of people watching the NCAA games who have filled out an NCAA Bracket (or joined a NCAA pool). You’ve seen it. The one the sport jock in the office passes around photocopied draw asking for five bucks and a dream for entry. And then after just about everybody in the office fills they all magically morph into collegiate hoop fanatics. Sound familiar?
Did you fill out your pool? If you’re reading this you probably filled at least one out? I know I did it – it’s in the crapper now! My friends did it. My neighbor did it. My assistant at work did it. Heck, this European fellow in my office who doesn’t even know the nickname of North Carolina filled one out. Why did he do it? Not sure but I imagine the low-cost entry fee, the chance to join in and have a stake had something to with it.
Point is all these people who normally would not watch this NCAA hoops tournament are now into it because they got a stake in it. They put some scratch down and now they are “all in,” watching the games, checking their brackets and looking at potential points. It’s crazy, but that’s what makes this event one of the biggest in U.S. sports.
Add that to the fact the event has endless marketing and media coverage and it’s no wonder the it has been such cash cow for CBS, which owns the TV rights. Furthermore, with George Mason going hoops crazy, how many of the current 30,000 students currently enrolled do you think will partake in some form of NCAA March Madness gambling next year? 20%? 50%? All of them?? What a great system! The event feeds itself every year!
Back to tennis. If it ever wants to gain more pub, get more people involved and interested, just follow the NCAA’s lead. Instead of spending millions on gimmicky TV replay systems and worthless doubles promotions, just get that tournament draw out as far ahead in advance at possible – a day or two before is not enough – and promote the you know what out if. Run draw contests and encourage people to fill one out for themselves and pass them out at the office. Do something!
I know it sounds a bit seedy but tell me the difference between what’s happening on the tennis courts vs. the basketball courts this month. People in the U.S. love to have a stake in the sports they watch, tennis just needs to give them all more of that chance.
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