March Madness stars cash in on brand partnerships for the first time

March 24, 2022

Written by Haley Corzo

Last year Drew Timme played a chief role in Gonzaga’s success during March Madness, helping to lead the Bulldogs to the championship game with his 6’10 frame and conspicuous mustache. He’s back again this year, but this time around that famous mustache has led to some big deals with brands off the court.

In June of 2021 the Supreme Court ruled that student athletes were now allowed to be compensated for their names, images, and likeness (NIL), which the NCAA had previously restricted. The decision has since transformed athletes from all collegiate sports into influencers for big and small brands alike, and for the first time ever March Madness is part of that mix. 

Drew Timme has captured media and public interest from his recent partnership with Dollar Shave Club, but other players from the men’s and women’s basketball teams are catching the eyes of brands during this year’s tournament. We explored these partnerships to see how they’re generating engagement online. 

Media and Public interest to March Madness and NIL deals

Players are the newest addition to advertisers and their campaigns around March Madness, and news about the NIL deals have generated a notable amount of media and public attention.

chart of media and public interest to March Madness and NIL deals

Publishers have been writing about NIL deals since early March, but the public didn’t start to tune in until March 15th, when ESPN reported on the Drew Timme and Dollar Shave Club partnership. ESPN’s article has gained the most attention so far, generating over 2.7k engagements, but as the tournament progresses into the second round, more announcements of the players’ brand partnerships are making headlines. 

Drew Timme and Dollar Shave Club 

Drew Timme began dazzling audiences with this talent and loquacious nature back in 2019 as a freshman on Gonzaga’s basketball team. Now the Junior is using his charm and quirky facial hair to become Dollar Shave Club’s newest “chinfluencer”. 

Timme announced his partnership with the razor subscription brand on March 9th, just in time for the start of March Madness. The Instagram post felt authentic to Timme, reading as though he was speaking to any friend or fan and doused in humor. The ads that followed revealed the new look Timme would be sporting while on the court – a smooth chin…kind of.

Both ads feature the basketball star and an animated version of his chin, labeled “Timme’s smooth chin.” Combined the posts totalled over 6.5k engagements, and the comment section was flooded with praise from fans, some calling him the “goat” and “iconic”. Timme currently has 87k followers on Instagram, and as his popularity grows on and off the court, he’s considered to be a favorable choice for brands looking to collaborate with student athletes. 

Doug Edert and Buffalo Wild Wings

If you assumed that Drew Timme was sure to be the only player with a signature mustache, you would be wrong. Doug Edert, a standout player for Saint Peter’s University, also sports a mustache that is often used to describe him, but his recent partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings is less about looks and more about food.

On Tuesday night the athlete took to his Instagram to promote a campaign that offers fans the chance to get free boneless wings if any of the remaining games played in the tournament end in overtime. Edert is surrounded by wings in the post, which earned more than 11.9k engagements. Buffalo Wild Wings also shared the news on their Instagram page, earning slightly more engagements with 17.7k in total. 

Edert isn’t the only basketball player that Buffalo Wild Wings has partnered with to promote its Overtime campaign. The company sees the value in these athletes as influencers, and two posts with Baylor’s James Akinjo and Belmont’s Nikki Baird have also received thousands of engagements. 

NIL deals go beyond the star players 

Brands are jumping at the chance to get involved with these athletes, but they’re choosing to partner with more than just the most popular or top scoring players on each team. Bed sheet company Sheets and Giggles has done this in a creative way.

Last week the company announced on Twitter and Instagram that it has formed its own “dream team” made up of players who they deem are the ‘most well-rested’. What defines the most well-rested players? Having the most bench time (or making the fewest appearances, to put it more plainly.)

Some of the players included in the campaign are UCLA’s Russel Stong and UCF’s Becca Ripley, who both joke about the importance of getting a good night’s sleep in their posts promoting the bed sheets. They may not have the same following as a Drew Timme, but the inclusivity of the campaign has drawn likable attention, with Stong’s post seeing more than 1.3k engagements. 

The NIL era has well and truly arrived for the men and women of the NCAA tournament. Between the breakout stars, cult favorites, and even those on the sidelines, athletes can now begin to capitalize on the great moments that they produce, and the more that brands decide to join them, the more attention they are sure to grasp. 

To read more about how athletes can influence with brand partnerships, check out our Cristiano Ronaldo blog here.

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