March Madness, Meetings Edition

We're in the thick of March Madness again. Learn how your association can incorporate elements of one of America's largest sporting events into its meetings and conventions.

Are you one of the 40 million Americans, who, according to American Gaming Association research, fill out 70 million March Madness brackets and wager $9.2 billion on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament?

Our goal is to keep everybody in the hall for the entire time the show is open.

Then you probably know that this weekend the Sweet 16 gets narrowed down to the Final Four. But, whether you’re a sports nut who’s in a number of pools or more of a sideline observer, there are plenty of ways for association meeting planners to make the most of the tournament at their conventions and smaller meetings, particularly if the events happen to overlap. (Also be sure to check out our other coverage of how nonprofits are creating their own industry-related March Madness.)

Take a cue from the American Pet Products Association, which broadcasted the tournament on the show floor during its Global Pet Expo last week.

“Our goal is to keep everybody in the hall for the entire time the show is open,” said Andy Darmohraj, APPA Executive Vice President and COO, to BizBash.

Working with its general services contractor and foodservice company, APPA built a 1,500-square-foot lounge with a long wood bar, barstools, hightop tables and, of course, multiple televisions. Then, as a way to tie into the expo’s focus on animals, there was artwork of pets playing sports. “It’s a little more whimsical to play off the pet theme,” Darmohraj said. “But it looks so nice, not like a bar at a networking reception. It’s like a neighborhood bar you’d slide up to and order a beer and watch some sports.”

Though the Global Pet Expo is a large event with 18,000 attendees, that’s not to say that smaller associations or smaller events can’t riff off of the idea as well.

For example, the Independent Insurance Agents of Illinois hosted a March Madness event with two other groups last week. The free event, which was limited to 50 people, took place at sports pub and included a three-hour ethics continuing-education seminar, followed by a tournament viewing party. Lunch, pizza, beverage, and apps were also included.

Then there’s the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin. Prior to the start of the tournament, RASCW held an event called “March Madness Tip Off,” where attendees could not only fill out brackets and register them with the association but also network with peers. Following the championship game, RASCW will award prizes to the top three brackets as well as the last-place entry.

But what if your association doesn’t have the budget to add a March Madness-style event to its convention? Besides securing a sponsor, one idea is to encourage attendees to wear college team apparel at one of your events. As a bonus, finding colleagues wearing shirts from the same school is an easy icebreaker. Another fun idea is to make a meetings-related bracket—perhaps favorite session attended or favorite topic presented—and have attendees vote for a winner.

How have you seen associations incorporate sports events like March Madness into  their education sessions, expo hall, networking events, or other parts of meetings? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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