Fans Plug Into March Madness Social Tools

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The Final Four is almost anti-climatic compared to the action happening during the first few rounds of the men's NCAA basketball tournament.

March Madness is naturally a social event, even for college basketball’s most casual fan. Whether you’re watching the games with friends or catching the action from, er, um, work – the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is a can’t-miss time of year.

It’s what my TV newsroom junkies called the “water-cooler” moment. It’s what everybody’s talking about this week at work – even if coffee shops and soda machines long ago replaced that old water cooler.

Sports nuts consider this the best time of the year. They flock to TV screens and computer monitors and soak up as much action as possible. Get your fix and talk about it with your friends. Watch more games, and talk some more.

Today, the “getting together” and “talking” happen online as much (or more) as face-to-face. And by online, that’s skewed toward social (Facebook and Twitter).

March Madness carries that uniquely-sports aura with it, so even if your team is done, the action is isn’t.

The fans are the real reason. They make it happen. But the NCAA should get some credit, too. The organization that brought you the productivity-killing March Madness on Demand and the Boss Button, now has the Social Arena. While the site may have some flaws and be blatantly overfilled with corporate advertising, it’s also chock full of fascinating info for today’s socially-minded college basketball fan.

Want to follow your favorite college team on Twitter? The NCAA lists them all. That’s a powerful resource. You can vote for your favorite team in a Facebook-inspired bracket. The highly shareable activity is as easy as choosing winners and losers in a traditional office pool. Plus, then your friends know who you’re cheering for and where each team ranks according to Facebook.

For true social media nerds (like me), perhaps the best features of Social Arena are the Daily Snapshot and Social Bracket Leaderboard. Here’s where the NCAA captures, analyzes and shares social data about the tournament.

At posting time, the Daily Snapshot showed these impressive social stats:

  • 4.2 million: Likes of the 68 NCAA team Facebook pages
  • 25 of 36: Teams that won on Social Bracket and on the court.
  • George Mason: Its upset of Villanova spurred a 12x spike in social posts.

Some extra props to the @marchmadness Twitter team, as well. They’ve quickly gained more than 15,000 followers. More impressive is their effort to keep the conversation going, interacting with fans, posting social info, re-tweeting fan content, etc. They’re worth your follow from now through Final Four time.

On a selfish note, it’s difficult for me to get too charged up about March Madness because my favorite team (the Iowa Hawkeyes) did not get selected this year. The same can be said for millions of fans of other teams in the same situation. But March Madness carries that uniquely-sports aura with it, so even if your team is done, the action is isn’t.

And for college basketball junkies, that’s all that matters.

Thanks for being a fan.

Dear Gus Johnson, Please Join Twitter

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Gus Johnson is the perfect sportscaster for Twitter. Ha-HA!

If March Madness has a spokesman, it has to be Gus Johnson. The high-energy, highly-YouTubed basketball play-by-play man for CBS and the Big Ten Network (among others) makes this time of year crazier. And more exciting for fans everywhere.

Johnson’s game calls get hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits. His energy is contagious and can turn ho-hum games into “Ha-HA!” ones. If you haven’t seen (and heard) the Gus Johnson Soundboard site, it’s a must-visit for Gus Johnson fans.

As Bob Cohn of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review put it:

Johnson lends his voice to the NFL, college football, boxing and just about anything where there are winners and losers, including video games.

But Mr. Johnson’s voice is not heard on the social platform I believe is made for him: Twitter. And that’s a shame.

OK, so he’s kind of a busy guy. Between college and pro sports, endorsements, family life – he’s got to have a life.

But judging by the people in my social circle – and by the buzz he creates this time of year – Gus Johnson would be a huge hit on Twitter. He’s highly trained in being succint. To the point. One-hundred forty characters would be a perfect fit.

Who wouldn’t want his thoughts after calling last weekend’s PAC 10 overtime thriller between Arizona and Washington. Johnson’s description of the game-winning shot by Washington’s Isaiah Thomas was epic.

Cold-blooded, actually.

“You can tell he loves the game,” Villanova Coach Jay Wright told the New York Times this week. “He gives you a fan’s excitement and an analyst perspective.”

So I’m greedy, and I want more. If Gus Johnson brought that same excitement and authenticity to Twitter, he’d be a huge sensation for fans in a whole new medium. He’s nearly perfect for Twitter – certainly more than most announcers, athletes, coaches or others in any sport. 

I hope he gets the message, because Twitter needs Gus Johnson.

Thanks for being a fan.