The billion-dollar bracket: Quicken Loans’s stroke of genius

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When there are 64 teams in a tournament, people know that correctly predicting the outcome of all of the games is nearly impossible. It is not like the lottery, where someone will always win, as unlikely as it may be. In March Madness, it is possible no has or ever will draft a perfect bracket. According to Quicken Loans themselves, the “odds of winning the Grand Prize are 1:9,223,372,036,854,775,808.” That’s 1 in 9 quintillion.

On the surface, only a fool would not enter the challenge. While it is almost a certainty no one will win, who would decline a free chance at $1 billion? Quite simply, the old economic maxim is true: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

In exchange for your moonshot chance at enough money to place you over 9 countries’ GDPs, Quicken Loans simply asks you to fill out some information–about housing. In one fell swoop, Quicken Loans and Warren Buffett have given themselves free publicity that one could barely buy for $1 billion and free marketing information that Quick Loans is poring over as you are reading this.

With 15 million entrants, Quicken Loans and Buffett have assembled a wealth of valuable information. All of those 15 million people gave their names, cell phone numbers, and answered some questions about their mortgages. While invaluable to Quicken Loans themselves, they could also profit directly from the information by selling it to others. So, while in a few minutes your signed up for the potential to drop the words “budget” and “debt” from your vocabulary, you also signed up for spam, telemarketing, and less privacy.

Still, one has to imagine that Warren Buffett had an uncomfortable night or two of sleep knowing that there was an infinitesimally small chance that someone could be that one in 9 quintillion and make him a billion dollars poorer. This year, though, Mr. Buffett had to do even less waiting than average; it took only 21 games for everyone to be eliminated from the challenge. Normally, it takes about 23 to 24 games for everyone to lose their shot at a perfect bracket. No one has ever produced a perfect bracket, and only once in recorded history has someone correctly predicted the first round.