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For nearly a month, March Madness has consumed the attention of even the mild-tempered college sports fan. Anticipation built as brackets were filled out, bets were wagered and the first round games got under way. It wasn’t long before thousands of brackets busted when Cinderella teams and undefeated champions fought their way to the Sweet Sixteen. Here we take a look at the tournament’s effect on the workplace and how brands are taking advantage of captivated audiences, as well as the role of technology in predicting winning outcomes.

Lindsey-RogersLindsey Rogers, US Consumer Analyst at Mintel

Tens of millions of Americans have filled out March Madness tournament brackets this year, making it even more popular than springtime’s other popular ritual – Spring Break. Similar to how students see Spring Break as an opportunity for relaxation, college sports fans see March Madness as an opportunity for socialization and leisure. Typically, offices around the country report an uptick in employee sick days during the tournament, as well as hours of lost productivity due to employees watching the games on their computers or mobile devices while on the job.

36% of sports fans say their favorite sports ads feature appearances of popular personalities

One way to target this engaged group of sports fans is to develop ads that feature cameos of popular personalities, as 36% of sports fans say their favorite sports ads feature appearances of popular personalities (Marketing to Sports Fans US 2014). Another option is to target consumers online or on their personal devices. After all, those who follow games during the day while at work or on their lunch break rarely have a TV in front of them. Acura used this tactic in 2015 with its online “March Memeness” campaign, as did CBS, which partnered with Snapchat to share user-generated March Madness stories.

Perhaps most importantly, however, marketers should create campaigns that are enjoyable and allow fans a bit of respite from their everyday lives. If marketers can learn anything from these numbers, it’s that even the most hardworking of sports fans sometimes need a time out. And, after today, once the madness is over, it’s time for sports fans to get back to work.

Bryant-HarlandBryant Harland, US Technology Analyst at Mintel

Algorithms have long been a staple of everyday digital life powering everything from search results to movie and music recommendations. Now, they’re also starting to make their way into sports. Since last year, Kaggle, an online community of data scientists, has hosted a competition to design the best algorithm at predicting March Madness results. Is this a sign we should all start favoring software over gut instinct (eg 64% of consumers agree it’s important to support teams from your home town)?

Not exactly.

Algorithmic decision making has come a long way in recent years due to developments in machine learning. Algorithms have already made their way into sports as talent scouts. In the NFL, for instance, software from Eye Scout can be used to rank players based on a wealth of performance and salary data to identify which players would work best for a given team. Humans still get the final say, but Eye Scout’s software can recommend and rank players based on past performance – that is the type of analysis algorithms excel at because they are incredible when it comes to crunching enormous amounts of data and recognizing patterns.

When it comes to predicting the outcome of events with a lot of chaos, like basketball, algorithms are less precise. As Michael Lopez, one of Kaggle’s data scientists, told CNBC, the chances an algorithm will even get three-fourth of the games right are “astronomically low.” Even so, the more data that algorithms have available, the more powerful they become. In last year’s Kaggle contest, for example, the winning algorithm correctly predicted 73% of games. By tomorrow, Kaggle will have crowned a new March Madness winner.

Beyond predicting sports tournament outcomes, data supports an argument for more widespread use of algorithms to provide consumers with projections and relevant team-related statistics. According to Mintel, 45% of consumers who follow professional sports said they use an electronic device to get more information during televised sporting events, and a similar share said they did the same at live sporting events. Real-time algorithm-based updates could be a great way to keep fans engaged in second screen viewing during games.

Lindsey Rogers is a consumer analyst at Mintel. In addition to writing industry news alerts, she produces content for multicultural, lifestyle, leisure, and travel reports. Her areas of interest include demographic and psychographic marketing.

Mintel’s Technology Analyst, Bryant Harland brings almost a decade of experience working in the tech arena, most recently as a Senior Technology Writer with Brafton News, where he oversaw the editorial team, wrote as a trade journalist and prepared a range of industry white papers.