How much is protecting the sanctity of the phrase "March Madness" worth to the NCAA? About $17.2 million, apparently.
Quietly last October, that's how much the NCAA paid sports and entertainment marketer Intersport for sole ownership of the trademark, according to USA Today. Intersport previously won a 2007 dispute with the NCAA over the rights to use "March Madness" in connection with college basketball-related programming delivered over wireless devices.
If shelling out $17.2 million seems like overkill to protect such a well-known phrase, consider that the men's Division I college basketball tournament accounts for about 90 percent of the NCAA's $700 million in annual revenue.
As a result, the organization takes the protection of terms associated with the event very seriously, tightly controlling the use of phrases such as "Final Four" and "Big Dance" in addition to "March Madness."
The term "March Madness" originated in 1939 when coach, administrator and writer H.V. Porter used the phrase as the title of an essay about the annual state high school basketball tournament in Illinois. In 1942, he also published a wartime poem that captured the spirit of the event entitled "Basketball Ides of March." It ended with these four lines:
Now eagles fly and heroes die
Beneath some foreign arch
Let their sons tread where hate is dead
In a happy Madness of March.
During the 1940s and '50s, March Madness became the popular term for the Illinois state tournament. It wasn't until the 1980s that it was used to describe the Division I basketball tournament and the NCAA became concerned with acquiring the trademark.