Final Four Food War: Where You Live May Reveal Your March Madness Menu

NEW YORK — Now that the Final Four is set on both the men’s and women’s sides, the only question left for college basketball fans is — what are you eating this weekend?

A new survey of 2,000 fans watching the NCAA tournaments reveals that East Coast aficionados are elevating their gameday cuisine with gourmet cookies and inventive cold cuts. Meanwhile, down South, fans not only brag about their gameday feasts but also claim to be the most knowledgeable about the sport as well.

Results show that those same Southerners are also most likely to drown their sorrows in snacks when their team loses (24%) and are also most likely to pull out the snacks that are relevant to their team or region for good luck (18%). Eastern college basketball fans, however, are most likely to try not to toss their plate due to excitement or sadness (14%).

Regardless of their location, 79 percent of fans have a favorite team they root for, and more than two-thirds (68%) plan to celebrate a win more than they will suffer a loss.  When their favorite teams reign victorious, 37 percent bask in the glory for a few days, while 10 percent say their mood is boosted for a few weeks. When their team takes the L, however, 30 percent feel the sting for a few hours, while 29 percent say the pain lasts several days.

Many fear their team can’t withstand the heat of the tournament, and only 13 percent believe their team has what it takes to win it all. College basketball fans in the East are the most confident in their favorite team, compared to Westerners, who seem to have lost some hope (16% vs 11%).

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Frank’s RedHot, the survey also took a closer look at how fans across the U.S. stack up against one another, especially during March Madness. As for college basketball fans in the Midwest, 57 percent love an underdog, and 53 percent find buzzer-beater moments to be the spiciest. 

Results reveal that it’s not just heat they’re taking on the court — college basketball fans in the West (27%) and South (27%) are most likely to prefer a “hot” level of spice in their food. More than one-third (35%) of Westerners tend to add some heat to their ramen, more than any other region. 

While most college basketball fans in the East prefer a “medium” level of spice (44%), they’re the most likely to heat up unusual foods such as pizza (40%), deli meats or cold cuts (18%), or even cookies (10%) and ice cream (9%). Thirty-two percent of Midwesterners tend to opt for a “mild” spice level and are most likely to add a bit of kick to their burgers, whether they’re beef, turkey, or veggie (39%). 

inforgraphic about Americans college basketball fans from different regions in the US and the spice level they prefer on game day snacks

“College basketball fans are looking for more than just some heat on the court this month — they’re also looking for it on their food,” says spokesperson Valda Coryat, North America Vice President of Marketing at McCormick & Company, Inc, in a statement. “Results revealed that 93 percent of all fans prefer to add some level of heat to their food and whether they’re adding some kick to a classic dish or experimenting with something new and unexpected, there’s a flavor adventure waiting for everyone.”

Almost all college basketball fans (97%) find themselves snacking while watching games throughout the month of March, at least sometimes, and 58 percent of those respondents admit they consume more food during the tournament than the rest of the season. While condiment staples such as barbecue sauce are still on most American’s shelves (63%), others such as hot sauce (52%), buffalo sauce (33%), sriracha (22%), and even hot honey (18%) were also found to be must-haves in fan’s households.  

Interestingly, college basketball fans in the East are most likely to douse pasta (16%) and cookies (8%) in their favorite condiments. Eastern fans also rival the West in terms of competitiveness — more than three-quarters of both regions (77%) consider themselves to be competitive, more than the other regions.

Overwhelmingly, college basketball fans tend to get along best with football fans (44%). While 19 percent of fans in the East tend to mesh the best with baseball fans.

“While this survey emphasizes that college basketball fans across the country are ready for basketball’s biggest tournament, it also reveals diverse culinary traditions across regions and that every fan brings a unique experience to the table,” says Coryat. “No matter one’s flavor preferences, March is the perfect time for friendly competition, and adding a little heat into our lives and onto our plates.”

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 college basketball fans split evenly by East, South, Midwest and West was commissioned by Frank’s RedHot between Feb. 9 and Feb. 20, 2024. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).