How Capital One combined real-time marketing and sponsorship

Stephen Whiteside

The annual end-of-winter NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship – more commonly known as "March Madness" – is a sporting event that begins with 68 teams and, over the course of three weeks, engenders a national sporting frenzy as it grinds down to the "Sweet Sixteen", the "Elite Eight" and, ultimately, the "Final Four".

You don't have to look far for the excitement: office pools, bar regulars, and even friendly neighbourhood civic organizations all partake in tracking "brackets" – a week-by-week list of who's chosen the correct teams to advance to the next round.

The competition becomes a kind of informally sanctioned national lottery: not quite gambling, but not quite non-gambling. And it culminates in a finale with ratings traditionally higher than any NCAA college-football contest or any World Series baseball game.