Get a game plan to win March Madness email marketing: 4 ways to win + 3 winning brand examples

Profile photo of author Phil Weltman
Phil Weltman
10min read
Email marketing
January 7th 2023
Image shows 2 men laughing

Have you built yourself an audience of loyal basketball fans? Or, of folks who are married to them, who have raised them, or who want to become them?

Over 10 million people watched the March Madness tournament last year. Whether your customers are die-hard basketball fans or just folks who like your products, March Madness email marketing campaigns are a smart way for your brand to increase sales or even just build more loyalty with your existing subscribers.

Just be careful: The NCAA trademarked “March Madness” and plenty of other phrases associated with the college basketball tournament. That’s why, if you want to use the sporting event to promote your products, you’ll need to get creative. If you want to avoid getting fined by the NCAA, stay away from using their trademarked terms.

If your brand sells sports or outdoor equipment, athletic apparel, or even entertainment merchandise like TVs, March Madness is a can’t miss opportunity to tap into your audience’s competitive side.

Consider making your messaging more relevant to customers who are hyper-focused on creating the perfect bracket.

Recent Klaviyo data shows high click rates—an average of over 7%, average revenue per recipient of over $80, and an average of over $800k from March Madness email campaigns alone.

Image shows a chart indicating top performing Klaviyo customers’ March Madness email campaign results
Source: Klaviyo

March Madness SMS campaigns were well worth the effort, too, earning average click rates of over 25% and average revenue over $55k.

Image shows a chart indicating top performing Klaviyo customers’ March Madness SMS campaign results
Source: Klaviyo

No matter what industry your brand is a part of, these email marketing tips can help you achieve your best season—er, quarter—yet.

To help you create a winning March Madness email campaign, here are some tips and tricks (and a few brand examples) that will increase your shot at the finals—or, in other words, convert those email subscribers into sales.

Read on to learn how to best optimize:

for a winning March Madness season.

Let’s go!

1. Win the jump ball with an intriguing subject line

The subject line of your email is the first thing your readers will see, so think of this as the start of the game or the tip-off.

The average email campaign earns an open rate of 35.59%. That improves to 37% for sporting goods brands—and with a little creativity and strategizing, you can increase your open rate further by tapping into the March Madness spirit.

Here are a few examples of well-crafted March Madness subject lines:

  • “Let the Madness BEGIN!”
  • “It’s tournament time. Madness sale!”
  • “Slam dunking into your March inbox with a Madness sale!”
  • “It’s March Madness—score big deals!”
  • “Don’t miss out on the Madness 🏀 Get exclusive offers now!”
  • “Go for the win with free shipping on your order!”
  • “Money-saving Madness 🤑 Open for discounted deals on [Product]!”
  • “You’re in our Elite 8 🏀Claim your rewards now.”
  • “Filled out your bracket yet? Madness is almost here.”

Not sure where to start? Check out Klaviyo’s AI-powered subject line assistant. It can help you improve your subject lines, streamline your campaigns, and customize your message based on your brand and goals. Just plug in verbiage around “March Madness” and watch it upset your expectations.

Brand focus: Farmhouse Pottery scores 2 points with their subject line

Farmhouse Pottery includes not one but two emojis in this subject line for their March Madness marketing email: “MUG MADNESS SALE”

The brand’s email also announces their discount in the headline and alongside each product shot.

Image shows a March Madness email from Farmhouse Pottery
Source: Farmhouse Pottery

2. Get your head in the game with March Madness content

During March Madness, people are typically looking for ways to support their favorite teams and celebrate the tournament. They’re not only watching the games at home—they’re gathering in bars, placing friendly bets, razzing their colleagues when a favorite team gets knocked out.

If you can associate your brand with March Madness, it can be an effective way to engage customers and build brand loyalty. People will be more likely to remember your brand if you insert yourself into the conversations they’re already having.

Go big or go home with a March Madness brand campaign

One of the most popular ways to make March Madness your own—without infringing on those aforementioned trademark laws? Create your own bracket!

Whether it’s a game, a competition, or just an infographic, you can evoke the same feeling of excitement within your customers that filling out a bracket gives them.

Brand focus: Beardbrand’s elite email demands attention

Beardbrand’s email is beautifully designed with a March Madness-style bracket of famous men with mustaches. The only call to action? To vote for your favorite mustache.

This is an interesting, somewhat risky move: There are no product shots, no discounts offered, and no obvious path to purchasing—even after the user clicks “CAST YOUR VOTES”, they don’t land on a product page.

But the experience is fun—the kind of activity the average person might forward to a friend, or use as an excuse to check out from work for a few minutes. It’s also memorable.

Most importantly, the email blends right in with other March Madness content the subscribers might be hyped about—while still staying true to their brand. A basketball fan is bound to respect the parallel.

We think this email does a lot to establish brand awareness and build trust.

Image shows a marketing email from Beardbrand showing tournament brackets like the NCAA basketball tournament
Source: Beardbrand

Tweak your emails to align with March Madness

You don’t have to go as far as creating an entire bracket concept to ensure you’re making the most of March Madness. Instead, consider what small tweaks to your email campaigns you can make in order to stand out to raving fans.

Brand focus: Olive & June enhances email copy to allude to The Big Dance

To the naked eye, Olive & June’s email follows the formula of any email campaign you would see from them—the brand highlights a variety of their nail polish colors to inspire shoppers to make their next purchase.

But by doing a play on March Madness with “March Mani Madness,” Olive & June successfully gives a nod to the famous tournament—without uprooting their entire content marketing strategy for the month.

If you look closely, the only language that aligns with the basketball tournament is in the headline at the top. If there’s a tip to take from this example, it’s that you don’t have to overdo the allusion. One place is enough.

Image shows a marketing email from Olive & June
Source: Olive & June

3. Study your audience to personalize your plays

Every player and coach in the NCAA tournament watches hours of film to learn everything they can about their opponents—giving them the best chance of hoisting up the championship trophy come the end of March.

Of course, your customers aren’t “opponents,” but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn everything you can about them.

Knowing your readers—and segmenting them by their interests—will help you send more personalized, relevant email campaigns.

One of our favorite segments for March Madness is geographical location.

As we mentioned above, you can always use a welcome email series (or maybe a sign-up form) to collect information directly from customers about who they’re rooting for this year.

But if that doesn’t feel like an authentic move for your brand, using a subscriber’s location can help you make an educated guess about which team is their favorite.

For example, you might create a segment of everybody who lives close to Durham, North Carolina, then send them emails with a Duke University theme.

Image shows a product shot from the Klaviyo dashboard comparing lists to segments
Source: Klaviyo

4. Optimize your game with A/B testing

If you run the same play over and over again, your competition is going to catch on—and you’ll start to lose. A/B testing your subject lines, preview text, and email content will help you optimize your email strategy to help you send winning emails game after game.

Here are a few elements you can test:

Subject lines

Getting off to a good start can make or break a basketball game. Similarly, the subject line of your email is a great place to start A/B testing because it is the first thing your audience sees.

In the subject line, you can test a lot of different approaches, like:

  1. Personalization vs. non-personalization: Personalization can make someone feel special, but it can also make someone feel creeped out. Test using your reader’s first name to see how it resonates with your audience. If they’ve abandoned a product, try adding that specific product into the subject line.
  2. Emojis: Using emojis in your subject line adds personality to your emails. Try testing to see if a basketball emoji works in your March Madness campaign.
  3. Discounts: Are you running a March Madness promotion? If so, see if mentioning the discount in your subject line helps increase open rates.


Including a discount in your emails can mean the difference between someone purchasing or not.

It’s a good idea to A/B test different types of promotions in both your subject lines and your content to see which ones move readers to open and purchase.

Try testing the following promotions:

  • Dollar-based discount
  • Percentage-based discounts
  • Free shipping
  • Free gift(s)

Brand focus: Freshly Picked includes a slam dunk of a discount

Freshly Picked sent this March Madness marketing email with a code to get 20% off. The email starts off with a subject line that touts their “BIGGEST” sale in March.

The email references the basketball tournament in several places—the discount code is “playoffs” and the copy below the product shots playfully nods to the season. “March has been full of sale madness!” The copy essentially explains what the subscriber can get as part of the promotion, but using March Madness terms.

Image shows a March Madness marketing email from Freshly Picked
Image source: Freshly Picked


March Madness gives you a unique opportunity to test creative, fun, singular content.

By testing different versions of an email with a split audience, you can identify what content resonates the most with your audience and produces the best results. This can help you to create highly effective emails that will drive maximum engagement, resulting in higher open rates, click rates, and conversions for your brand.

Not sure if March Madness will resonate with your audience? Test your March Madness email campaign with your audience against generic content to see if it elicits engagements.

Use the results to inform whether you double down on a similar campaign next year or spend your time on other ventures.

Shoot your shot this March Madness season

With these key strategies in your playbook, you’ll be well prepared to take your email campaigns to the Final Four.

Klaviyo has the marketing automations to help you create eye-catching subject lines, hit the easy shots, and optimize your play. Finish strong and win big with our segmentation, integrations, and more. Just because March Madness isn’t a traditional shopping holiday doesn’t mean it’s not a good time to sharpen your marketing skills.

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Phil Weltman
Phil Weltman
Phil was formerly on the marketing team at Klaviyo. Prior to marketing, Phil spent a year on the growth team helping lead the charge to build a digital marketing platform for nonprofits and fundraising organizations.