Diving Into the Coolest NIL Campaigns of the NCAA Basketball Tournament

By Tom Segal | March 29, 2024

Hey, hoop fans! March isn’t just about slam dunks and buzzer-beaters; it’s also the stage where NIL campaigns shine their brightest! Let’s dive into my top five marketing campaigns starring college athletes during the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, highlighting what sets them apart. Whether it’s scoring free wings, navigating tax season, combating pests, or vying for tickets to next year’s Final Four, these five partnerships promise to captivate you like never before and maybe even have you wanting to do your taxes or craving some wings along the way!

Buffalo Wild Wings: Overtime Wing Promotion

Buffalo Wild Wings set the bar high with its overtime wing promotion, teaming up with college basketball players Jack Gohlke (Oakland), Jimel Cofer (Grambling), Brooks Barnhizer (Northwestern) and Zakiyah Franklin (Kansas). The brand’s swift response to plays, which sent games into overtime, epitomized the spontaneity of these NIL deals. By celebrating lesser-known players alongside stars, Buffalo Wild Wings promoted inclusivity and authenticity, capturing the essence of the madness.

What sets this campaign apart?

  • Equity and Inclusivity: Buffalo Wild Wings’ campaign extends beyond the typical star players. By including athletes from different universities and popularity, they promote equity and inclusivity. Fans appreciate seeing lesser-known players getting recognition and NIL opportunities during the tournament.
  • Viral Potential: These on-court heroics went viral, and Buffalo Wild Wings capitalized on the moment. They strategically targeted players who forced overtime, creating a direct link between thrilling basketball moments and their brand.
  • Authenticity and Fan Engagement: By partnering with college athletes, Buffalo Wild Wings adds authenticity to their campaign. Fans appreciate genuine connections, and the brand’s support for student-athletes resonates positively. By sweetening the deal with a digital coupon for six free wings upon pre-overtime purchases, the campaign not only boosted revenue but also ignited greater fan engagement, encouraging them to root for games to go into overtime.

Epsilon Marketing: Work Together to Win Together

Epsilon Marketing’s “Work Together to Win Together” campaign broke new ground by offering NIL opportunities ($500/player) to every female student-athlete in the Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament. This initiative not only addressed gender disparities in NIL earnings but also fostered collaboration and empowerment among athletes. By providing financial incentives and career support, Epsilon demonstrated its commitment to leveling the playing field.

What sets this campaign apart?

  • Equity and Inclusivity: Epsilon’s campaign is a pioneering effort in the realm of NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) deals. It is the first and only NIL opportunity available to every female student-athlete participating in the Women’s Division I Basketball Championship.
  • Collaboration and Core Values: The campaign aligns with Epsilon’s core value of collaboration. Titled “Work Together to Win Together,” it emphasizes the power of teamwork. Participating athletes share what teamwork means to them on Instagram, reinforcing the importance of collaboration both on and off the court.

Raid: Pest Control Power Play

Raid’s Pest Control Power Play campaign enlisted the talents of Jeremy Roach (Duke) and Darianna Littlepage-Buggs (Baylor) to tackle pests on and off the court. With strategic NIL deals and timely messaging, Raid capitalized on the overlap between pest season and the tournament. By incorporating engaging content and expanding its brand reach, Raid demonstrated the versatility of NIL partnerships.

What sets this campaign apart?

  • Timely and Relevant Messaging: The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments coincide with the beginning of pest season, as insects like roaches, earwigs, and spiders appear in homes. Raid’s campaign cleverly aligns with this timing, emphasizing the need for pest control during the tournament. The athletes’ involvement (and their last names) reinforce the message.
  • Engaging Content: Jeremy Roach and Darianna Littlepage-Buggs appear in digital and social content throughout the tourney. In one of the commercials, Roach humorously says, “Take it from somebody who knows, the only Roach you want to be rooting for this March is me.” Littlepage-Buggs adds, “Bugs can be great, too, but only when I’m on the court. That’s why we’re turning to Raid for protection from unwanted pests this season.” The playful banter resonates with viewers and strengthens the brand message.
  • Unexpected Partnership: Raid’s association with college basketball athletes is unexpected and attention-grabbing. It demonstrates that even brands like bug repellents can find creative ways to engage with sports fans.

TurboTax: Make Your Moves Count

TurboTax seized the opportunity to partner with college basketball players like Armando Bacot (North Carolina) and Jack Gohlke (Oakland), leveraging their newfound fame during this year’s tournament. Through witty commercials and strategic placement, TurboTax connected with fans on a personal level, addressing real-world tax implications for student-athletes. By navigating the complexities of NIL deals and tax season, TurboTax showcased its relevance and relatability.

What sets this campaign apart?

  • Humor and Timeliness: Jack Gohlke’s NIL deal with TurboTax was particularly clever. After his remarkable performance in Oakland’s upset win over Kentucky, fans playfully labeled him a “future accountant.” TurboTax embraced this persona, having Gohlke post an 8-second clip promoting their services. The simplicity, humor, and timeliness of the commercial resonated with viewers.
  • Engaging Content: TurboTax (which is already an NCAA sponsor) could have used game footage of Gohlke’s three-pointers, but they opted for authenticity. The commercial’s delivery, combined with Gohlke’s newfound popularity, made it a home run. It demonstrated how to play the social media game successfully.
  • Real-World Tax Implications: Their 30-second TV commercial, titled “March Madness: Burrito,” starring Armando Bacot subtly nods to the new world of tax implications for college athletes earning endorsement money using their NIL. By addressing this relevant topic, TurboTax positioned itself as a trusted resource to college athletes and the fans that cheer them on.

RITZ: Are You Snack Bracket Ready?

RITZ Crackers elevated snack time to new heights with its #AreYouSnackBracketReady campaign, featuring influential college athletes like Zakai Zeigler (Tennessee) and Jada Williams (Arizona). By harnessing the power of influencer marketing and interactive sweepstakes, RITZ engaged fans and created a sense of shared excitement during the tournament. Through strategic advertising and a focus on togetherness, RITZ left a lasting impression on sports enthusiasts and snack lovers alike.

What sets this campaign apart?

  • Authenticity: The collaboration allowed 16 college basketball players to share their unique perspectives and initial taste reactions to RITZ Toasted Chips on their own social channels. The brand aimed for authenticity and autonomy in content creation, enhancing fan interaction and excitement.
  • Strategic Advertising: RITZ used short video formats (6-15 seconds) across platforms like Meta, TikTok, YouTube, and connected TV during the tournament. They also partnered with House of Highlights to create additional content. By strategically placing their ads during the tournament, RITZ maximized visibility and impact.
  • Engaging Sweepstakes: The campaign encouraged fans to participate in the ‘Are You Snack Bracket Ready’ sweepstakes. Fans could vote on recipes they wanted to see compete during the tournament, with a chance to win a trip for four to the 2025 NCAA Men’s or Women’s Final Four. This interactive element fostered engagement and excitement among fans.

And there you have it, these five NIL campaigns are my MVPs of this year’s tournament! They’re not just ads; they’re slam dunks of creativity, authenticity, and pure genius. By teaming up with college athletes and riding the wave of tournament excitement, these brands have scored big with fans everywhere. And guess what? This is just the beginning! With NIL shaking things up in college sports, who knows what kind of epic partnerships and unforgettable moments will embrace the madness during future tournaments.

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