Mobile March Madness

As far as I’m concerned, March Madness is better than any holiday. It has been since Chris Collins coached my traveling basketball team in grade school.

As I’ve gotten older, my obsession hasn’t waned. Rather, it’s been fueled by the fact I no longer have to fake sick to stay home to watch games from the couch. When betting pool invites went out for the 2008 tournament, I knew this year would offer even more opportunity to wade through the daily grind without missing a score, highlight, or friendly, trash-talking Facebook post.

When I submitted four of my five brackets to a group hosted by ESPN, clear mobile callouts featured online made me aware of the ESPN Tournament Challenge link, accessible via ESPN’s mobile WAP (define) site. One simple bookmark later and I had the mobile Web version saved on my BlackBerry, ready for opening rounds. I didn’t know how important this would be until about halfway through the games that first Friday.

Correct picks of Siena, Davidson, and West Kentucky had me off to a pretty good start, but the San Diego game came out of nowhere. Right in the middle of my evening commute. We’d been watching games all day in my boss’s office, but the tables at the bar were secured, so it was time to head out. The auto-refresh option on ESPN’s mobile site was a lifesaver (it also netted me two new friends between the Chicago Loop and the Belmont station). It sufficed until I was able to reach the bar to see highlights and meet friends who awaited me (and my cash, to pay the day’s side bets).

Shortly thereafter, the genius of ESPN’s mobile site was once again revealed. I didn’t have to wait until I got home to log on to check where my brackets ranked in the overall pool. My printed brackets with corresponding colored highlighter lines could only get me so far in guessing how I might have done, but just by logging back into ESPN’s mobile site, I was able to see where I netted out that day by accessing my groups link within my brackets. ESPN director of mobile advertising sales Brian Colbert let me know my experience was just how they’d hoped fans would use the mobile site this year. He said, “For this year’s tournament, we enabled users on our WAP site to create and track their brackets just as they would on Our goal is to provide as much of the online experience as we can on mobile and having the ability to track your brackets on your phone is a great example of this.”

That it is.

This is also a great testament to the understanding ESPN has of its audience. Instead of just offering the normal fair of news and alerts, EPSN truly enabled the mobile device to serve as a go-to point for fans while away from a computer. It seems to have resonated with fans, too, as Colbert told me traffic to the WAP section covering the tourney was up 170 percent over last year.

As the tournament progressed, so too did the ways in which I relied on my mobile device for access and interaction. While watching games this past Friday, I texted back and forth with a friend with minute-by-minute updates on another friend (a loyal Michigan State alum) who was melting down. He was none too pleased to see the correspondence for himself but commented on the fact our other friend didn’t miss out because I’d so readily captured the event via text. One hundred sixty characters, seven or eight times over the course of the game, did the trick.

I also received my first Facebook Wall taunt post this past Sunday, while lunching with my mom. My Facebook mobile app registered a new alert. When I checked it, I started talking out loud to myself; prompting my mother to shake her head and apologize to the next table for my “potty mouth.” See, my fifth bracket submission was to a Facebook pool based on an invite from a college friend. We’re currently tied for the number-one spot. Let’s just say he’s having second thoughts about including me again next year.

Whether you’re a fan of college basketball or not, you must agree the advent of digital and mobile technology enables a whole new way for fans to experience March Madness. An experience that is a living testament to the connections mobile has the power to create with people — and content.

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