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The Ball Is Tipped

Gonzaga Men, Michigan Women Make Significant Social Impressions

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Social Media
NCAA
Published 
March 24, 2022
 | 
7
 min read

The middle of March is the epitome of college basketball bliss for fans across the country. In overlapping spans of four days, the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments pare their fields from 68 national championship hopefuls to 16. Meanwhile, student-athletes, fans, and alumni alike ride the emotional roller coaster as their teams either survive and advance or have their seasons screech to a halt in the single-elimination format. As spring dawns, college basketball heavyweights hope to avoid upset bids while Cinderella teams aim to create chaos in the affectionately known Big Dance. During the opening weekend of this year’s NCAA tournaments, the overall No. 1 seeds – Gonzaga men and South Carolina women – danced on despite tough tests, but not all expected contenders enjoyed the same success. The first round of the men’s tournament will be remembered for the St. Peter’s Peacocks’ unlikely upset of perennial power Kentucky, while few women’s basketball fans will forget Iowa transfer Lauren Jensen returning to Carver-Hawkeye Arena as a member of Creighton’s team to topple the favored Hawkeyes in the women’s second round. These stories and others were topics of discussion on Twitter throughout the first two rounds of March Madness, so we used MVP’s social platform to identify which teams were most engaging online and how far their reach spread. An examination of keywords pertaining to the tournaments and their Sweet 16 participants from Selection Sunday through the conclusion of the women’s second round revealed 257,887 total tweets making 1.82 billion impressions on the platform, highlighting the popularity of college basketball’s greatest spectacles.

Tournaments Boast Similar Average Reach

The 2022 Women’s NCAA tournament is the first of its kind to utilize March Madness branding, after years of the NCAA only permitting its men’s showcase to feature the trademarked logos and terminology. But while the governing body inches toward equality, the men’s tournament has remained more popular on social media. It generated 1.5 billion impressions during its first week, 4.68x more than the women’s tournament. However, a closer look exposes the vast discrepancy between total tweets for the two events, as the 211,181 mentions for the men were 4.52x higher than those of their counterparts. On the basis of impressions per tweet, the tournaments have been closely aligned, with the men only enjoying a 3.4% bump. A significant reason for that difference was a tweet sent by late-night television host Jimmy Fallon on the eve of the men’s first round. Fallon has the largest reach of any Twitter author who posted about the events – 29% higher than the second-most popular – during the period we examined, and his post caused a considerable spike in impressions for the men’s tournament on the afternoon of March 16. Further proving the popularity of the women’s game was its most engaging tweet, a post from Bleacher Report – with a hint of crossover appeal – that earned 2.62x more engagements than the most engaging post related to the men’s tournament. Overall, the highest peak in activity for both events came during the respective hours when tournament participants were announced.

Top Seed Carries Torch for Men’s Madness

Men’s basketball fans have watched an incredible program transformation in the Pacific Northwest over the past two decades. Gonzaga had never so much as reached the NCAA tournament before 1995. The Bulldogs would not return until 1999. But that second appearance and the surprising run to the Elite Eight that ensued sparked a dynasty that has been a part of every NCAA tournament since and reached two national championship games, most recently last year. Gonzaga spent much of the 2021-2022 regular season atop the polls and entered the Big Dance as the overall No. 1 seed. Last week, they also topped MVP’s social rankings of men’s Sweet 16 participants. Despite being mentioned in only the third-most tweets, the Zags made 31% more impressions than any other team remaining. Gonzaga’s 317.2 million impressions accounted for 16.39% of the total among the 16 teams. The private school in Spokane was followed in our rankings by Michigan and St. Peter’s at 242.2 million and 235.3 million, respectively. Purdue, however, earned the crown for average impressions, surpassing Gonzaga by a 29.1K to 25K margin for first place. The collective social performance by Purdue and Michigan helped maintain the Big Ten’s momentum from Championship Week, as the conference received 20.48% of the total impressions to lead all men’s leagues.

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Contrasting Blue Hues Vie for Supremacy

Big Blue, Carolina Blue, and Blue Jays all contributed to the opening weekend of madness in the women’s tournament. The Michigan and North Carolina women’s teams both enjoyed convincing victories to begin their title pursuits. Michigan rolled past a pair of double-digit seeds to set up a date with South Dakota on Saturday in Wichita, while the Tar Heels pulled away from a feisty Stephen F. Austin squad before cruising past last year’s runner-up, the Arizona Wildcats. Throughout the games, each school also enjoyed success on social media, as Michigan – with 9.2K mentions and 157.9 million impressions – finished first to UNC’s second – 9.1K mentions and 89.93 million impressions – in tweets and impressions during the period. But the magic of March Madness was arguably most apparent through Creighton’s social performance. A team that was bounced in its first game of the Big East tournament completed two upsets of its own, propelling its prominence to third among women’s Sweet 16 teams in terms of impressions, with 89.91 million. It was also the only non-No. 1 seed in the top five of average impressions per tweet. Stanford, South Carolina, and North Carolina State earned the top three places – with 46.2K, 33.4K, and 28.4K, respectively – in that category through the tournament’s first two rounds.Furthermore, the Cardinal and Gamecocks also surpassed each men’s Sweet 16 participant in average impressions per tweet.

Cinderella Dances Through Kentucky

Residents in the Bluegrass State – aside from those in Louisville – will likely shudder at the thought of the St. Peter’s men’s basketball team for years to come. The Peacocks out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference made their first tournament appearance in more than a decade and promptly defeated the University of Kentucky and Murray State to reach their first-ever Sweet 16. But it was their opening-round victory over one of college basketball’s most decorated programs that made the most noise on social media. On Selection Sunday, the Wildcats generated 78.9% more mentions on Twitter and created 81.6% more impressions than tiny St. Peter’s. But by primetime on Thursday, the tides had turned. St. Peter’s created an enthusiastic following by the minute, inducing more unique Twitter authors than any other school boasted as it bid to take down one of the top contenders on the first night of the tournament. After the Peacocks’ shocking overtime victory, they finished the day with 15,488 mentions on Twitter resulting in 114.8 million impressions. By contrast, UK only generated 97.2 million impressions on the platform on Thursday. At week’s end, the 291.2 million impressions created by the Peacocks’ magical run to the second weekend were 10.3% more than their much higher-profile first-round foe received during the same period.

Madness Intensifies on Road to Final Four

Although the action-packed first weekend of March Madness always gets the most hype, the next five days will truly separate the pretenders from the contenders. Seven of the eight regional No. 1 seeds remain across the men’s and women’s tournaments, but there are 25 other teams with the same national championship aspirations on the roads to the Final Four. The collection of blue bloods and Cinderellas will undoubtedly drive social discussions throughout the tournaments’ Sweet 16s and Elite Eights, and MVP will continue to monitor team performances and provide valuable comparative insights after the rounds conclude.

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