11013547_10204578387718237_259148508980662855_nI love March Madness because college basketball is my favorite sport and this first weekend of the NCAA Tournament represents pure nirvana. So of course I attended yesterday’s round of first round games at the CONSOL Arena in Pittsburgh.

When you attend the four games in a first round session over the course of more than 12 hours total, there’s bound to be some down time to ponder the universe and the way the event is run, leveraged and even exploited. I took notice of a – some would say bizarre – range of subjects over the course of the day and night. Here are just a few ways that this event and its attendees did a good, and not so good, job of branding and PR.

You can over-brand. The NCAA – Big Brother who puts on this fabulous event every year needs to take itself just a little less seriously. In between games during the night time session, the NCAA showed a nearly 10 minute “highlight” film that flashed the NCAA logo about four million times during its run, dramatic music and all, but there really seemed to be no real reason for it. You don’t have to hit people over the head with your message just for the sake of saying the same words over and over again. Be sure to create messages that resonate with your key audiences and create the right communications channels in which to communicate them.

A picture is worth a thousand words – The thing that is great about the NCAAs is the thing that is great about all college sports. The color and excitement; the alumni wearing school colors proud and loud; the band, cheerleaders, mascots and dance teams – I love it all. In taking in the scene I found myself wondering why some schools decide to bring a big band and few cheerleaders, while others have cheer squads, dance teams and fewer band members. No matter what they brought, it added a sense of pageantry and excitement to the whole day – even during the dull games. My only conundrum was why the Villanova cheerleaders were constantly waving to the crowd before, during and after performing. Did they have a lot of family in the stands?  A pretty package doesn’t hide a bad product, but you aren’t going to get anyone’s attention without ensuring that the exterior is looking good as well. Make sure that your packaging matches the quality of the product.

Know your audience – There were several instances of total bafflement for me, but the biggest came when the event organizers marched out the national championship rifle team from West Virginia University for recognition. Now, WVU isn’t playing in Pittsburgh – they are three hours west in Columbus. Duquesne University was the event host. Many of the fans not connected with the teams playing here were Pitt and Duquesne alums that just like basketball and are rivals of WVU. It was just a misplaced moment that I think didn’t do the student athletes any favors since I heard a smattering of boos from ignorant fans. It just didn’t belong in this venue. Make sure you consider your audience for every element of a big event, a product launch or any other promotion.

Big events can shine a light, but in the end it’s the product. There was enough good basketball to keep most basketball fans entertained throughout the day but when the games were bad, they were very bad and no matter how loud the band was, no matter how pretty or talented the cheerleaders, it was easy to tune out for a bit. Make sure that your product holds up to any bright light.

If all else fails and your team is losing or even if they are winning big (like Villanova yesterday), just smile and wave –like the ‘Nova cheerleaders.