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March Madness: From Cinderella to Top Dogs

imgresIt’s that time of year again, as conference tournaments swing into full-effect and universities and a nation of college basketball fans prepare for March Madness. The NCAA tournament is considered one of the most decorated, competitive and exciting tournaments in all of sports.

What makes it so special and exciting?

  • Tradition
  • One-and-done elimination format
  • Upsets/Cinderellas.

Yes, the upsets and cinderella stories where the virtually unknown programs and mid-major programs become household names during this time of year. The storyline of David vs. Goliath is probably over-hyped, but it’s those moments like Valparaiso and Bryce Drew’s buzzer-beater over Mississippi, NC State’s Lorenzo Charles championship winning dunk in 1983 to defeat heavily favored Houston, and Hampton’s (#15 seed) monumental upset of #2 Iowa State in 2001 that make the NCAA tournament one of the most anticipated events in all of sports.

Over the course of the last decade of the NCAA tourney there are four teams that have transformed the face of college basketball and provide evidence of how a magical cinderella run can catapult a program/university  beyond the game. George Mason University’s cinderella run of 2006, VCU of 2011 and Butler’s 2010 and 2011 runs are all tremendous examples of how March Madness can swing the advertising and marketing revenue of a program.

url-1Mason Nation, the hysteria that surrounded their tourney run, resulted in 350 percent admissions inquire increase and netted around $677 million worth of free advertising for the Fairfax, Virgina based school. Sports Illustrated’s article by Bill Syken examined how George Mason would have had to spend at least $50 million for a public-relations campaign to equal the exposure that year. Fundraising, alumni donations, merchandise sales and enrollment all were sizable areas of profitability for the university.

The 1999 Gonzaga Bulldogs are now the gold standard for how to grow a NCAA program, from a smaller school and mid-major conference, West Coast Conference (WCC) to national powerhouse. Off the heals of their first number ranking in school history, Gonzaga University looks poised to become a #1 seed as well in the NCAA tourney.

Prior to the 1999 season, Gonzaga had only been to the tourney once before, suffering an early first round exit. The Zags bolted onto the national scene after their run to the Elite 8 as they came up just a few points short of the Final Four to eventual champion Connecticut. After coach Dan Monson bolted to Minnesota as he capitalized on the program’s successful NCAA tourney run, Mark Few emerged as coach and has led the Zags to 13 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Not only has Gonzaga’s success given the city of Spokane in Washington state national recognition, but it has bolstered revenue for this private Catholic school and increased admissions inquiries and students enrollment.

urlThe Zags have reaped the financial awards and hope to rake in more as this season they seem favored to make it to Atlanta for the Final Four. The season ticket sales increased so dramatically since the magical 1999 season that a new facility was built in downtown Spokane in 2004. Additionally, university gift commitments have grown two-fold and upwards of $20 million since their Elite 8 appearance. Active boosters and additional donations have led to greater involvement in capital planning and major projects city-wide. Gonzaga now has a formal agreement with Collegiate Licensing Company, the nation’s leading collegiate licensing group and seen enrollment increase upwards of 25%.

While no one can predict when a Gonzaga, VCU, George Mason or Butler will come along and shake up the NCAA tournament, schools can work with their public relations department and prepare to make the best of a Cinderella run, should it present itself. Enrollment, admissions, employment, donations, merchandise sales are just some areas to benefit and provide a marketing campaign to drastically bolster university recognition. So prepare yourself and let the March Madness begin!

Comment below on who you see being this year’s Cinderella. Make sure to follow the conversation on our Facebook page and on Twitter @SportsNetworker

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