TV & Streaming

Women’s basketball is central to this year’s March Madness ad campaigns

Some brands, including Adidas and Ally Financial, are spending more on the women’s tournament than the men’s.
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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

5 min read

Some of the biggest names in college basketball this year are women. Shaq knows it—he said he’s “only been paying attention to the girls” this season—and advertisers seem to know it, too.

After last year’s women’s tournament broke records from the Elite Eight through the championship, several major brands are putting women’s hoops front and center in their March Madness campaigns, including their athlete partnerships and their media buys.

“In years past, if we asked about the women’s tournament the day before, we would likely have been able to buy every round, even championship game units,” Elliot Rifkin, associate director on the media buying team at TV ad agency Tatari, told Marketing Brew. “This year, when we requested costs or inventory updates, most of it was sold out.”

“A very easy discussion”

Women’s college basketball isn’t typically the hottest commodity among Tatari clients, but leading up to this year’s March Madness, the company was “getting way more questions about women’s college basketball than men’s college basketball,” Rifkin said.

Brands aren’t just asking questions about the women’s game—some are spending more on women’s March Madness than men’s. That’s the case for Adidas, which is running an ad starring LSU guard Hailey Van Lith in both tournaments, according to SVP of Brand Marketing Chris Murphy.

“There’s great storylines, great personalities, great basketball happening on the women’s side, which creates a lot more interest, which obviously means ratings are going up,” he said. “It wasn’t like we had a big discussion [about] ‘Should we or should we not do this?’ It was a very easy discussion.”

Ally Financial, which has spots running from the Sweet Sixteen to the championship, bought four times the amount of guaranteed impressions for the women’s tournament than the men’s, and its overall investment in the women’s tournament is two times bigger than its investment in the men’s, Stephanie Marciano, head of sports and entertainment marketing at Ally, said. And Principal Financial Group balanced its ad spend equally across both, even though the price of women’s sports inventory has gone up, EVP and CMO Beth Wood said.

“Most marketers would say, ‘I don’t want to pay more,’ but, you know what? If I get more eyeballs, I’m okay to pay a little bit more,” Wood said.

Coca-Cola, which has been an NCAA partner for 22 years, increased its media spend on women’s March Madness this year with a campaign promoting Coke Zero Sugar, according to Charece Williams Gee, VP of North American sports, entertainment, and influencer marketing and partnerships for Coca-Cola. The ad “celebrates both men’s and women’s basketball” and is also running against the men’s tournament, Anne Carelli, director of creative strategy for Coca-Cola North America, said in an email.

Get it while it’s hot

Amid the increasing interest in women’s basketball, ESPN sold out of women’s Final Four and championship game ad inventory more than two weeks out. (On the men’s side, CBS Sports and TNT Sports cleaned up, too.)

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“A bit of a newer trend is brands that are coming to us to buy basketball see women’s basketball on the same playing field as men’s basketball,” according to Jacqueline Dobies, Disney Advertising’s VP of revenue and yield management. She also said that “demand has been strong across all marketplaces,” with multiyear deals, upfront deals, and short-term scatter buys all proving popular.

Disney started to see RFPs for women’s March Madness come in as early as last May, according to Dobies, and other media buyers and sellers said the timeline for securing inventory has moved up in the past year. Rifkin said his team at Tatari started locking in women’s tournament buys for clients around September, which more closely matches the typical timeline for the men’s tournament.

TV ad sales company Ampersand, which sells local cable March Madness ads across ESPN and TNT Sports properties, saw demand for women’s March Madness inventory increase around the same time—about six months ago, according to Dave Solomon, Ampersand’s director of sports partnerships.

Bonus points

If in-game inventory can’t be secured, there are other ways to advertise against both March Madness tournaments. Sunglasses brand Goodr is sponsoring March Madness coverage at The Gist, a sports media company, and State Farm partnered with the publication to amplify its partnership with Caitlin Clark, Jacie deHoop, the Gist’s co-founder, said. Aflac is teaming up with athlete-founded media and commerce company Togethxr to host women’s Sweet Sixteen watch parties at The Sports Bra and Spirit of 77 sports bars in Portland, Oregon.

In addition to running ads on TNT and paid social, Ritz is partnering with Bleacher Report’s House of Highlights social media network to produce additional content, according to Jennifer Sobolewski, senior brand manager at Ritz. The cracker brand also commissioned 16 college athletes—eight men and eight women—to post social content during the tournaments, and is holding a sweepstakes that offers a trip to next year’s men’s or women’s Final Four.

And if this year is any indication, the 2025 women’s tournament will likely be an even hotter ticket for fans and brands alike.

“Would we invest next year? Yes,” Murphy said of Adidas’s involvement with women’s March Madness. “Will we invest in ’26? Probably. I can see us continuing to invest in this space as you see women’s basketball continue to grow. I don’t think the interest in it is going to wane. I think it’s only going to continue.”

Correction 04/16/24: An earlier version of this article identified Beth Wood as Beth Wood Leidt.

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