Can You Make Money Off of March Madness?

March 20, 2011

My first March madness tournament pool entry was seven years ago.  I’d never participated in pools at work but thought it might help me get to know some new people in the group better so I put in my $5 and got my entry form.

Running the Numbers

Since I’d put $5 of my money on the line I decided I needed to make some semi-educated decisions about who to pick.  I sat down in front of the computer the night before our brackets were due and started doing some research on the teams.

Four hours later I had downloaded the season stats for all the teams into a database and was running reports for each matchup that I had to choose.  I never intended to spend so much time on the whole process but after investing that much time I decided to just stay up the rest of the night and do as much analysis as I could on the teams.

My wife’s a big Kanas Jayhawk fan so she’d recorded a bunch of Selection Sunday commentary, which turned out to be great for me. Every time I wasn’t sure which team to choose after looking at the numbers I’d watch the picks of the announcers (Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale, etc) and use their perspective to help guide my choice.

Big Mistake or Big Score?

I felt horrible the entire next day at work, not having slept at all, and remember thinking to myself what a big waste of time the whole exercise had been.  My thinking began to change after the Sweet 16 had been decided and I was still in the hunt.  All my Final Four teams were still in the tournament and I had a legitimate chance of winning.

Georgia Tech making it to the final game (and then losing) was what won it for me that year.  Only one other person in my pool had chosen them in the final and they had the YellowJackets winning the whole thing. It was a pretty big work pool so I walked away with several hundred dollars of winnings, and was convinced I had figured out the system and would win many more to come. 

Chasing the Money

The following two years I followed the same analysis steps, without staying up all night, and didn’t even come close to winning. I tried even harder those subsequent years, paying for multiple bracket entries, soaking up all the commentary about the teams, and writing software to help me analyze the teams.

It was fun but the reality was I was in it, to win it.  I was after that big fat prize but after a few years pursuing it I discovered that I had been more lucky than anything else that first time. Although I’m sure crunching those numbers did something to help out my luck, I wasn’t able to repeat the process and finally just switched back to watching the games for fun rather than with hopes of making money.

Making Money in March

So, to answer the question of whether you can make money off March Madness, I guess the answer is, it depends.  Financially I came out way ahead after a few years of buying $5 bracket entries and winning the big pot just once.  If you know basketball really well, you’re really lucky, or a combination of the two then you might be able to semi-consistently win some money. But chances are you probably won’t win a ton of money so you’re probably better off just watching for fun.

Entering a bracket is still a good way to watch because it gives you a vested interest in the games and can make the whole tournament more exciting.  Just don’t do it expecting to get your money back.

March Madness Fans

There was something fun, for me at least, about sifting through all the data and writing programs to help make sense of it.  The same bug caught me this year but this time I decided to take a different approach.  I’ve been working with GIS (geographic information systems) lately at work so I wrote a tool to show which teams my newsletter subscribers were likely to support based on what part of the country they came from.

Here’s a screen shot of the teams and their fans – if you’re into basketball or just sports in general, check out the whole map and vote for your team:




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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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