March Madness 2009: Battling for B-Ball Bracketologists

U.S. markets may have risen by 15% in the last 3 weeks, but as anyone who works in an office knows, overall employee productivity in late March is pretty pathetic. The primary culprit: the NCAA tournament. Sure, many of our colleagues don’t even bother coming to work, fully accepting their addiction to heart-pounding hoops action, support of their alma maters, and the religious scrutiny of their brackets. Those who don’t stay home, however, are shamelessly plugged in at the office, scouring the web for real time scores, news, and game highlights.

With this year’s NCAA tourney wrapping up last night in Motown, what better time to look back at the past few weeks of March Madness and see which of the major online hoops properties managed to effectively attract and engage passionate fans, crazed bracketologists, and everyone in between. Throw a high unemployment rate into the mix, and the bracket traffic data really starts to sizzle. So which site came out ahead as king of the online court? I took a close look at NCAA bracket pages for ESPN, CBS Sports, and Yahoo! to find out.

Week 1 traffic to all three properties showed a strong year over year uptick, with ESPN taking the lead in 2009 from CBS, the 2008 leader. No shocker that overall week 1 traffic volumes eclipsed week 2 numbers: clearly a result of heated bracket building and heavy first round action in the tournament’s first week.

While ESPN reigned supreme in the 2009 battle for bracket builders, CBS proved that in the end, content is the real name of the game. Combining live streaming video coverage of games on site, exclusive highlights and commentary, weekly contests, and user generated content, the CBS bracket site averaged 7.8 pages per visit in Week 1 of the tournament, 20% stickier than ESPN at 6.5 pages per visit. Week 2 brought more of the same, with CBS closing the Unique Visitors gap and maintaining a clear engagement advantage.

Big month ahead: Major League Baseball kicks off, NBA postseason begins, and NHL playoffs get started. We’ll be sure to keep our eyes on the Fantasy ball, and keep you posted on the biggest stories out there in the online sporting world.