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There are a lot of lessons on sales growth strategy from the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Quality, deal structure, understanding buying patterns, and consistency are key.


I became a fan of women’s college basketball when the Final Four came to Columbus in 2018. These games made history even then. 7.62 million television viewers. Three sold-out games. Two overtime wins. And a championship game that came down the wire (Notre Dame beat Mississippi State by a three-point margin.)

Fast forward to 2024. This time, Cleveland played a fantastic host to an even greater event. Ticket prices were triple that of 2018, into the thousands of dollars. 18.9 million viewers (only 14.8 million for the men’s tourney). Sold out Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. Big names, including superstar Caitlin Clark. The most watched and most successful Women’s Final Four of all time.

After the tournament ended and the nets were cut down, the WSJ published this piece on the business of the NCAA Final Four. Here’s what the women’s and men’s games earned from TV rights:

  • $6.5M for the women’s game
  • $873M for the men’s game

Lessons on Sales Growth Strategy from the Final Four

Those figures aren’t surprising, but they’re glaring with the spotlight on them. If you look at those numbers like you would sales figures within an organization, there is no quick way to make up a 99% margin differential. Just like the women’s game, your sales organization isn’t going close sales of $6.5M in one year and $873M (or 135x sales growth) in the next year.

What can we learn from the business of sports and apply it to the business of strong sales strategy and closing more sales?

  1. Time is Required to Make Products, Services, or Brands Mainstream.

For as quickly as the world runs and the “overnight success” stories you can read anywhere, it still takes time for anything to become truly mainstream. Consistent investment, improvement, and innovation over time are the ingredients. One client of mine put this into practice by initiating customer advisory councils, to help inform future products and services.

  1. Product Quality Matters.

The women’s game has likely been perceived as having lower quality until recently, and therefore its financial value is lower. There’s an element of product quality that’s attributed to perception. But the product must actually possess the quality level your customer requires for your organization to charge its current full value. When improvements and innovations are added, then the organization can elevate its fees to match that new value.

  1. Deal Structure is Crucial to Closing Sales and Growing Sales.

The WSJ piece puts some onus on college athletics officials for the structure of the rights deals, questioning whether the surge in popularity of the women’s game wasn’t capitalized on early enough. The women’s game next season will earn $65M, a 10X jump in a single year. While still not near the men’s game, it does show some progress.

Sales organizations can learn from this. Revisit your large client deal structures on a regular cadence. Ensure that your sales teams are selling on value and not price. Ensure that deals aren’t being negotiated down at the last minute to win.

  1. Buying patterns and demographic shifts require more agility in your sales strategy.

Women and girls are in general watching more sports across a variety of media. Additionally, between 70-80% of consumer buying decisions are made by women, and 20-30% are made by men (source). Given the amount of consumer products advertised across all media, those factors help make the case for more advertising dollars and TV rights in the women’s game.

Influencers can significantly impact buying patterns, and quickly. Look at Taylor Swift, Nickelodeon, and the NFL. Swift’s indirect connection to the NFL and Nickelodeon’s Superbowl simulcast directly increased viewership among the teenage girl demographic (source). Organizations that consistently review their data around buying patterns and demographic shifts can avoid missing opportunities to improve their sales strategy.

There won’t be an overnight solution to building more earned equity in the game of women’s basketball or women’s sports overall. It’s will require consistent work and using ideas like these to continue closing the gap. Sales organizations doing this same consistent work to close their sales gaps will achieve their sales goals and be top contenders in the future.

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