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ESPN.com Needs Better Prize For Bracket Contest

Winning ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge is a huge accomplishment. It means winning a fantasy contest that involves more entries than any other contest.

But if you win and your bracket comes out on the top of what will be more than six million entries from more than three million people, don't expect to retire or even buy a half of a car.

At $10,000, it's probably the worst prize in all of sports fandom, considering the stakes, that is.

I'm pretty sure that the low prize, which has stayed steady despite the growth of the contest, has something to do with the network's partnership with the NCAA and the broadcasting of college basketball games.

NCAA executives have been outwardly uncomfortable with the so-called fantasy games. It's why, despite the obvious fair use of statistics and the demand for it, you won't find any games on any broadcaster's site that allow you to choose a fantasy team of college players for the tournament.

It’s probably also the reason why you’ll find that in the fine print ESPN.com doesn’t technically award the prize. Instead the sponsor, State Farm, does.

The bracket contest prize doesn't hurt ESPN.com from a participation standpoint. So many fill out brackets just to use the scoring system and to see how they stack up against the rest of the sports world. But it does hurt the sponsor. State Farm sponsors the Tournament Challenge, while Sprint sponsors the actual brackets.

Talk to any good marketer and they'll tell you that you can't just put your company's name on a property, you have to do something to link your business to that property. State Farm doesn’t do that. Sprint doesn’t do that.

You always see the story about the winner and it's often great. Like the story of winner Russell Pleasant, who won in 2006 by picking George Mason to make the Final Four because he thought they were George Washington.

Pretty good story. Imagine how much more bang for the buck a sponsor would have gotten if they offered a prize that had to do with their company?

At a time when the clutter and the noise continues to get rise, offering a unique prize is so important. The more a fan thinks about a particular prize that must be connected to the product, the more he or she will have a stronger connection with the company.

So for marketers at State Farm and Sprint, time to get your act together. Next year, the winner should get free cell phone service for life. As for the winner’s life, it will automatically be insured by State Farm. And ESPN.com can play a part in it all too. Give the winner a job as an honorary bracketologist to go up against Joe Lunardi over the next year.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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