March Madness: Everybody Loves an Underdog

Patrick Surry - Jan. 31, 2016

Summary

  • This year, Syracuse, Iowa State, and UConn fans are the most optimistic about their team’s chances of winning after Selection Sunday.  So far only Syracuse has been eliminated.
  • Iowa State fans have proven to be the most excited about their recent victory, with flight searches increasing by a factor of 56, most likely due to their lack of a Sweet 16 appearance since 2000.
  • Wichita State fans were half as enthused by a first round victory over No. 16 California Polytechnic State University this year as they were last year when the team upset No. 8 Pittsburgh.  This year, Wichita was expected to do well, where last year they were an underdog.
  • Data showed that underdog teams that perform better than expected generate 3 times more flight searches than teams who are expected to do well.  Perhaps because fans are expecting limited future opportunities to see their team play in the Sweet 16.  This year’s underdog teams are University of Connecticut, Tennessee, Kentucky, Stanford, Daytona, and Baylor.
  • Last year, Valpo, Saint Mary’s, Michigan State, NC State, and Kansas fans bet on their team winning in the Sweet 16 by searching for flights more than other fans.  Michigan State and Kansas fans, bet correctly.

March Madness Favorites 2013

The sports fans at Hopper wanted to see which teams had fans that were most likely to follow them to their games.  We first looked at last year’s bracket to identify the teams that drew the largest number of travelers to the sweet 16 and elite 8 games.  Specifically, we looked for a surge in searches to away games, correcting for non-basketball related travel, to identify which schools had the highest spikes in search volume and on which days.  Table 1 shows the top 5 schools in terms of peak search volume normalized by average search volume.  Florida Gulf Coast University saw the highest surge followed by Wichita State, Iowa State, Arizona, and Marquette.  The top 4 surges were all for teams that did significantly better than expected. Because fans seem to favor the underdogs, we looked at all teams and classified them into under performers (teams ranked above 8th that did not proceed to the Sweet 16), over performers (teams ranked below 8th that did go through to the Sweet 16), low ranked - out early, and high ranked - out late (Figure 1).  It can be seen that search for “low ranked - out early” teams is fairly flat, while search for under performers and “high ranked - out late” teams peaks after the first game.  Over performers (teams that did better than expected) resulted in the highest surge in flight searches as fans waited to see who won before searching, and searching big if their team did.  

School

Ranking

Search Volume Surge

Peak Travel Days

Florida Gulf Coast University

15 (South)

111

March 25th (def. No. 7 SDSU)

Wichita State

9 (West)

64

March 24th (def. No. 1 Gonzaga)

Oregon

12 (Midwest)

23

March 23rd (def. No.4 St. Louis)

Iowa State

10 (West)

21

March 23rd (def. No. 7 Notre Dame)

Kansas

3 (East)

14

March 23rd (March 24rd (def. No. 8 UNC))

Table 1: Top 5 teams with the highest increase in Sweet 16 travel (methodology: number of searches to Sweet 16 location airport for the days of the 3rd and 4th round games divided by the total number of searches from that origin)  

Figure 1: Overall travel interest by team performance in 2013

Above we looked at changes to flight searches over the course of March Madness 2013, but Hopper also looked at surge in flight searches following Selection Sunday.  The teams with the highest surge are the ones where fans are most optimistic about their teams chances of winning.  Table 2 shows that fans that were betting (by looking to buy flights) on their team winning.  Out of the top 5 only Michigan State and Kansas made it to the Sweet 16, again showing a tendency for fans to want to go see the underdog play and win.   Fans in the Midwest region were most likely to search for travel options immediately following Selection Sunday results, however only 1 of the top 5 school’s with the highest fan interest proceeded to the Sweet 16.  An interesting find is that it appears fans thought the midwest had the easiest schedule.

School

Ranking

Search Volume Surge

Valpo

14 (Midwest)

14

St. Mary's

11 (Midwest)

8

Michigan State

3 (Midwest)

6

NC State

8 (East)

5

Kansas

1 (South)

5

Table 2: The 5 teams with the highest increase in Sweet 16 travel search immediately following Selection Sunday (as compared to preceding month).  Schools colored red did not make it to the Sweet 16.

March Madness Favorites 2014

Hopper also looked at what might happen in March Madness 2014.  Following Selection Sunday the fans were favoring Syracuse, Iowa State, University of Connecticut, Arizona, and Wichita State, with all but Syracuse making it to the Sweet 16.  This year, the East region seems to be seen as an easier lineup by fans and we can also expect that the trend of betting on the underdog will continue.

We also looked at how over performers (those teams ranked below 8th and proceeded to the Sweet 16) are doing in terms of search as compared to other categories.  As in 2013, low ranked, out early see a flat flight search, while searches for under performers and high ranked teams peaks after the first game.  While it is too early to see the same pattern as last year, we anticipate that as unexpected teams over perform the flight searches to their games will drastically increase.  This years over performers are University of Connecticut, Tennessee, Kentucky, Stanford, Daytona, and Baylor.

School

Ranking

Search Volume Surge

Syracuse

3 (South)

14

Iowa State

3 (East)

7

University of Connecticut

7 (East)

7

Arizona

1 (West)

6

Wichita State

1 (Midwest)

6

  Table 3: The 5 teams with the highest increase in Sweet 16 travel immediately following Selection Sunday (as compared to preceding month). _Schools colored red did not make it to the Sweet 16.__   ![](https://cdn.hopper.com/static/rb/oZSRGRTMEO3A2SU27UzynKikNmI-5ZH6TpFcitnz7QlmJH8dx07kOIPOdXDgaUa3qSzjwr2FYQvAayXEAucFA41fWVvwbjfMWMzRQpsxCWFhwF6jtYaMInpx1cg) Figure 2: Overall travel interest by team performance in 2014.

Data and Methodology:

The data presented in this analysis comes from Hopper’s combined feed of Global Distribution System (GDS) data sources which includes about 10 million queries and 1 billion trips per day.  Demand is represented as the number of queries not actual ticket purchases, and is calibrated across all GDS sources for each market.

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