The total impact of VCU’s stunning run to the Final Four, financially and otherwise, will likely not be known for years. But history says the changes come from all angles and the shockwaves of such success can be felt for a long time.
In the coming months, studies will likely be commissioned to measure the impact of VCU’s incredible March, but we can draw some conclusions from George Mason’s Final Four appearance in 2006, as well as Butler’s rush to the National Championship Game against Duke in 2010. George Mason is of similar size and also plays in the Colonial Athletic Association. Butler, like Mason and VCU, is considered a “mid-major” athletic program, an informal designation often applied to schools that operate outside the six most prominent Division I conferences.
Dr. Robert Baker, director of the Center for Sport Management at George Mason, released his study, The Business of Being Cinderella in 2008. The study sought to examine the economic and social impacts of the Patriots’ Final Four appearance at the University, across the board.
Following its Final Four berth, George Mason saw admissions inquiries jump 350 percent. The school’s athletics website, GoMason.com, received a 503 percent spike in hits during March 2006.
Additionally, the school’s fundraising arm, the Patriot Club, reported a 52 percent increase over the previous year, while average attendance at the Patriot Center rose more than 50 percent (4,533 to 6,834) from the 2005-06 to the 2006-07 campaign.
The amount of media attention VCU garnered this year was unprecedented. In addition to grabbing headlines on major sports websites ESPN.com, SI.com, CBSSports.com and others, the Rams appeared on numerous sports talk radio shows, including the Jim Rome Show, the Dan Patrick Show and the Scott Van Pelt Show. Joey Rodriguez appeared on Lopez Tonight on TBS. But what is all of that worth?
Baker estimated that in 2006, George Mason generated an estimated $677,474,659 million in free media coverage. That means, if Mason wanted to purchase the same amount of advertising space on television, in print and on the internet, the price tag would be nearly $680 million.
Similarly, Butler’s study estimated the publicity value of its 2010 NCAA Tournament run at nearly $640 million, including $100 million for the championship game alone. The study valued internet publicity at more than $450 million. The Bulldogs also noted a 25 percent increase in season ticket sales in 2010-11.
While the short-term benefits of the Final Four can be a boom for any school, the question often becomes, “What are the long-term effects?” Baker says that VCU and others can expect to see positives for years to come.
“In terms of some of the lasting impression, we haven’t seen really any backward movement in terms of donations and attendance even,” Baker said. “Whether they’re still directly traceable to that experience…what the administration would probably say is that they were able to capitalize on it and maximize the opportunity.”
That last point is critical, Baker says. Schools need to be prepared to use the exposure gained through the Final Four. Universities with a clear vision will benefit significantly.
“We were already doing some things and on an upward trajectory as a university,” Baker said. “I don’t know if it changed any course of direction but it lit a fire and sped it up.”