Upset to Interest: How an Improbable NCAA Tournament Win Helped FDU Beyond the Hardwood

As the calendar flips from February to March each year, eyeballs are glued to screens for the NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament. Heading into the 2023 tournament, interest was booming. 35% of US adults polled (Morning Consult) said they planned on watching the 2023 tournament, the highest total in six years. With an average of 8.4-million viewers per window tuned in to catch the opening day of the NCAA tournament, the highest total in close to a decade (Nielsen), this proved to be true.

With many triumphs and upsets in the first days of the 2023 NCAA Tournament, perhaps no one won bigger than the “Cinderella,” Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU). Despite entering the game a 23.5-point underdog, the largest in tournament history, FDU shocked top seeded Purdue. Winning by 5, FDU pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament History, becoming just the second 16-seed ever to beat a top seeded opponent.  

A 2017 article from the Atlantic, “The March Madness Bump,” followed the impact of the NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament on college recruiting and admissions. The article highlights the “bump not only in public awareness, but in the number of applications received” by colleges and universities that exceed expectations in the tournament, noting a 27.5% increase in San Diego State applications following tournament success in 2013.

If this trend existed in 2017 (and it has only grown in the years since) as activity on began booming in the immediate aftermath of their basketball team’s triumph. The day of FDU’s win over Purdue, new users on increased by more than 1,000%, leading to more than 1.3 million total web page views according to Google Analytics domain level data. Including the two days following their win over Purdue, welcomed 524,497 new users and saw more than 2.15 million page views. In these 3 days, welcomed more web activity than in the entire calendar months of January and February.

Organic traffic sources are the biggest source of this uptick, with more than 560,000 organic sessions on the day of their upset and two days following. Google was the primary contributor, accounting for 75% of sessions, while direct organic traffic made up another 16%. An influx in total web traffic, especially when influenced primarily by organic means, indicates a significant increase in awareness and digital exploration of FDU.

Steps are being taken by FDU and Brkthru teams to capitalize on this increase in engagement, including refreshing brand messaging and activating a targeted paid media campaign to continue engagement with these new discoverers of FDU.

Questions? Reach out to Brkthru for help with digital media planning, execution and monitoring – We’re On It 24/7!