From brackets to bonuses: How March Madness drives mobile app downloads and engagement - MobileAction (2024)

Each year in March, college basketball captivates sports fans across the country with its iconic NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament. Over the course of three action-packed weeks, 68 teams battle through a single-elimination bracket in pursuit of cutting down the final net as champions. What started as a regional obsession has grown into a nationwide phenomenon affectionately known as “March Madness.”

This college hoops fest transforms the sports calendar, igniting passions from campus gyms to sports bars nationwide. But it also has massive implications for the mobile marketing industry. As fans devour details on brackets, betting lines, and buzzer-beaters, search terms like “March Madness games”, “college basketball”, and “NCAA” see huge spikes. This surge of search interest presents a major opportunity for sports, entertainment, and betting apps and mobile games to grab the attention of engaged audiences.

In fact, the pervasive March Madness has become one of the top events each year for driving downloads, engagement, and in-app purchasing across the sports and entertainment apps category. As tournament traffic grows, savvy mobile marketers capitalize on the moment with optimized organic rankings, targeted paid campaigns, unique in-app events, and creative custom product pages.

In this post, we’ll take a deeper look at March Madness mobile marketing strategies through the lens of keyword trends, share of voice analytics, and creative best practices. Our goal is to help apps maximize this once-a-year window for acquiring new users and revenue. So read on to see how one of the biggest tournaments in the U.S. sports can translate to peak performance on mobile.

How 68 teams become the talk of the mobile app world

From brackets to bonuses: How March Madness drives mobile app downloads and engagement - MobileAction (1)

Keyword Trends – ASO Intelligence

Each year come mid-March, certain keywords see their search scores begin to rapidly rise as the NCAA Tournament grabs national attention. Terms like “NCAA,” “March Madness,” “college basketball,” and past champions like “UConn” all experience a marked increase in searches.

MobileAction data shows that “NCAA” is searched at much higher rates during the opening weeks of tournament play compared to normal monthly volumes. This is understandable given the association puts on one of the most watched events in sports.

Similarly, the all-encompassing term “March Madness” peaks in searches as fans seek schedules, scores, and discussion around the iconic tourney atmosphere.

From brackets to bonuses: How March Madness drives mobile app downloads and engagement - MobileAction (2)

Keyword Research – ASO Intelligence

Interest is also strongly boosted for “college basketball” itself as the sport’s premier event thrusts teams into the national spotlight.

Even previous winners like “UConn” see search interest rise as fans look up championship histories or tune in hoping for rivalry renewals.

What’s clear is all these keywords hit their apex points around the beginning of April as the Final Four and national title game captivate the nation. With demand so high, mobile marketers must optimize to answer searched questions and satisfy sports-hungry users.

Scoring buzzer beaters on the Top Charts

During the first week of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, a clear pattern emerged in Google Play’s Sports Apps Top Charts. As seen in the screenshot below from March 19th, the top 4 spots were dominated by March Madness-focused apps.

ESPN’s Tournament Challenge sat firmly at #1, allowing users to fill out brackets and track their entries against others. In second was CBS Sports, offering news and scores for those following along. NCAA March Madness Live took third place, providing the official live streaming of every game. And rounding out the top 4 was the ESPN app, presumably seeing boosted usage for basketball-related content.

From brackets to bonuses: How March Madness drives mobile app downloads and engagement - MobileAction (3)

Biggest Movers – App Intelligence

This chart data leaves no doubt about March Madness’ massive influence in driving app downloads and engagement across the sports category annually. Within just the first week of games, those leveraging the event through relevant features and experience saw tremendous success atop the rankings. As the tournament enters its climactic final rounds, similar effects will likely continue benefitting apps catering to fans’ passion around America’s greatest postseason drama.

Scout, Sign, and Sometimes Buy: Balancing Organic and Paid Optimization

From brackets to bonuses: How March Madness drives mobile app downloads and engagement - MobileAction (4)

Keyword Trends – ASO Intelligence

This year’s March Madness saw a clear divergence between the apps optimizing organic placement versus paid promotion surrounding basketball-related keywords.

For “NCAA”, the official NCAA March Madness Live led the pack organically given its direct association. NCAA Apps and NCAA FCS Football also ranked well organically. Meanwhile, OddsR AI Sports Betting and Leaderboard Golf stood out in paid rankings by paid marketing efforts.

When fans searched “March Madness”, the top organic performers were again championship staples like NCAA Live and ESPN’s tournament-centric Challenge app. CBS Sports also polled organically with sports coverage. In paid results, OddsR AI Sports Betting, Dice Dreams, and Gametime placed bets on basketball audiences, elevating their visibility.

Looking at “College Basketball”, Scores App, NCAA Live, and season-simulation Campus Dynasty saw rewards from quality organic optimization. Meanwhile, paid pushes from streaming service Sling plus sports investing apps Sports Card Investor and OddsR AI Sports Betting cast a wider discovery net.

This case study offers lessons – to rise up in March and early April, balance organic keyword targeting with paid supplementing where strategic for broader exposure and capturing feverish fans.

Beyond Bracket Building: Engaging In-App Events to Skyrocket UA

From brackets to bonuses: How March Madness drives mobile app downloads and engagement - MobileAction (5)

In-App Events – App Intelligence

Smart mobile marketers during March Madness took advantage of in-app event badges to captivate busy basketball fans. These creative activations delivered valuable engagement metrics.

CBS Sports App and Yahoo Fantasy leaned into “Competition” badges for their popular basketball brackets and pools. The allure of competition drove significant entries and time spent analyzing odds.

DraftKings Sportsbook & Casino, DraftKings Fantasy Sports, Sleeper Fantasy, and Fanatics all spotlighted special offers and challenges through “Special Event” markers. Perks like boosted odds or one-day fantasy contests kept existing users immersed.

For live-action junkies, Betway Sportsbook cleverly highlighted their streaming capabilities with “Live Event” markings. The real-time viewing powered by these badges created irresistible stickiness.

The strategic use of in-app event labeling proved invaluable for showcasing engagement incentives and deals tied to tournament fever. App analytics showed measurable bumps in time spent and repetitive behavior during this test period. Going forward, event-based promotions can become an annual March rhythm for maximizing user fun and retention.

Creative Campus Craze: Leveraging Custom Product Pages

From brackets to bonuses: How March Madness drives mobile app downloads and engagement - MobileAction (6)

CPP Intelligence – SearchAds Intelligence

Our CPP intelligence shows one clear winner from a creative optimization standpoint was Max: Stream HBO, TV, & Movies, the official streaming partner of this year’s March Madness.

While Max saw a respectable but unremarkable 38% share of impressions from their default store listing, customized creative catapulted their presence. A meticulously designed product page boosted that share a full 24 percentage points to a dominant 62% majority.

By leveraging branded art, screenshots, and targeted value props related to live tournament access, Max was able to cut through high-traffic channels and resonate deeply with eager basketball consumers. The strategic page clearly drove immense further discovery – demonstrating how customized creative remains a difference maker for peak performance.

Going forward, this case proves the power of tailoring messaging and assets to own the moment during transient marketing opportunities like March. With laser precision targeting interests and pains, impacted brands can scale much higher on impressions for enduring sustainable gains.


As this analysis has shown, March Madness presents a tremendous annual opportunity for sports, entertainment, and betting apps to engage captive audiences and attract new users through optimized mobile marketing. The data clearly demonstrates that keywords, paid promotions, in-app events, and customized creatives all have the potential to significantly boost discoverability, downloads, and engagement during basketball’s biggest tournament.

From brackets to bonuses: How March Madness drives mobile app downloads and engagement - MobileAction (2024)
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