Dissecting the Classic Sports Moment
A ‘March Madness’ Case Study Televised Sports

Dissecting the Classic Sports Moment

A ‘March Madness’ Case Study

A ‘March Madness’ Case Study

It’s final-four week, and the stage is set for a thrilling end to a thrilling month of college basketball. To understand why sports are so incredibly captivating, one need look no further than the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments. Each game that the 136 selected teams play is a dramatic win-or-go-home contest in which anything can happen - unfathomable upsets, wild buzzer-beaters, polarizing controversies.

Roughly 10 million people tune in to enjoy what has become known as “March Madness” on television every year in the hope of witnessing one of those classic sports moments that have kept the tournament relevant for over eighty years. But what exactly makes a “classic” moment in televised sports? The team at Latitude executed a case study to explore this question. In this research, we deconstructed and reconstructed the broadcast of the final minutes from a notable NCAA tournament game, and investigated which specific elements were most associated with positive, passionate reactions from fans. The game that we chose was the 2016 NCAA men’s final, in which Villanova defeated North Carolina via an unbelievable 3-pointer as time expired. A sample of 616 basketball fans took part in the study within the Lumiere platform, which enabled them to leave detailed second-by-second reactions to what they were watching. The results below highlight the specific broadcast elements that had the greatest impact in creating a “classic” sports moment.

Key Study Metrics

Lumiere Score

The average positivity-negativity rating (10-point scale) of viewer reactions logged throughout viewing of each video cut tested.

Positive Sentiment

Percentage of positive comments, as determined by AI sentiment analysis of text responses.

Tournament Interest

Percentage of participants selecting “a lot more interested” on post-viewing survey item measuring general interest in the tournament.

Likelihood of viewing

Percentage of participants selecting “a lot more likely” on post-viewing survey item measuring general likelihood of watching.

Specific Comments

A collection of individual comments from viewers regarding specific aspects of each cut of the video.

And now let's tip-off and get into the findings…

Footage of Excited Fans


Transmitting the raw, unbridled crowd energy from the arena to the living room is an important consideration for producers of televised sports. In this study, a version of the targeted Villanova vs. North Carolina segment was created with additional footage of fans-in-the-stands to test the impact of this component. Participants rated our Fan-Centric cut of the video higher than any other segment (8.3 Lumiere score). This version was also effective in stimulating overall interest in the tournament, with 50.7% volunteering that it made them “a lot more interested” (2nd highest score). It may seem obvious that fan-footage is compelling, but the fact that showing the crowd rated above all other tested attributes and dramatically increased likelihood of viewing is surprising in terms of magnitude of impact. Watching the fans losing their minds in the excitement gives us vicarious access to the event, and that makes a big difference.

Game Context & Storylines

Throwing a ball into a hoop doesn’t mean much without the broader context of the game. What is the historical background? Which player has an interesting origin story? How long have the fans been suffering in pursuit of the title? The results of the study indicate that providing game context does not have an overwhelming impact on in-the-moment sentiment or reactions, but it was associated with the highest increase in level of interest in the tournament (57.8% “a lot more interested” after viewing the Context-Heavy cut). Everyone knows that context is important,  but this is especially true for an event like the NCAA tournament, with many viewers coming in without knowledge of the schools or players that they are watching. Adding more “story” to tournament advertising and promotion makes sense in light of this result.



Perhaps the most counter-intuitive of the results pertains to something that one doesn’t typically associate with the classic sports moment: timeouts. The Timeouts-Included cut used in the study resulted in 76% positive sentiment (1st), a Lumiere score of 8.1 (2nd), and made 57.1% of viewers “a lot more interested” in the tournament (2nd). The reason that the timeouts-included cut was relatively compelling is summed up well in a one-word remark left by a viewer during a pivotal timeout - “nailbiting.” Exactly. In that beat between plays the audience sits with the tension, aching to see what happens next, and that’s ultimately what it’s all about.

Replays of Critical Shots

Seeing the critical shot live as it happens is magical, but our results suggest that there is also value in seeing it in slow-motion from multiple angles. Viewers of the No-Replays cut in the study showed lower positive sentiment (-13%), lower Lumiere score (-0.2), and decreased interest in the tournament (-19%). In the original version, comments left while watching replays included sentiments such as “woooow,” “incredible,” “boo yea,” and “great game!” Obviously the audience has an appetite to watch that perfect moment over and over, frame-by-frame and savor it for as long as possible. So a note to those in the world of sports production: don’t be stingy with those replays, even in your highlight reels.

Engaging Announcers


In addition to the indelible image of the shot, hit, or catch that won the game, there’s usually an iconic “call” from the announcers that serves as the soundtrack for the moment. An Announcer-Free cut of the segment was examined in the study, and not surprisingly participant responses were more… muted. Compared with the original broadcast, the version without the commentary from Jim Nantz, Bill Rafferty, and Grant Hill rated lower on Lumiere score (-0.3), positive sentiment (-17%), impact on tournament interest (-12%), and likelihood of future viewing (-12%). As one viewer put it “I always love March Madness and a big part of that is the announcers!” Clearly, putting together a crew with the skill to contextualize the moment and dial up the excitement is an important component of bringing the event to life for the people at home

Human drama is at the center of every memorable sports moment. Promoting and executing a successful broadcast goes far beyond simply counting and commenting on the number of times a leather ball passes through a metal cylinder. A sports production succeeds when it captures the unscripted spectacle of winning and translates it into a raw emotional experience that any viewer can appreciate. Research studies like this one provide networks, producers, and advertisers with the data that they need to build the best possible broadcast and create as many “classic” moments as possible. 

More Case Studies

To learn more about the Lumiere software platform or Latitude’s insight services, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Put us in, Coach! We’re ready to work with you.

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