Some of the comments on the recent Monday Morning entry got me to thinking about the possible effects of our lack of athletic success on the university as a whole. I have to believe that athletics is a big component of the marketing and identity of a university (and you can make a fair case that perhaps those priorities are in the wrong order). When we lose on the field/court, are we also losing out on prospective students and faculty and extra revenue? This entry does get a little long but that’s only because I found so much good information.
Back in July, the Charleston Daily Mail interviewed Jim Clements, the new president of West Virginia University. You can read the article titled â€œNew WVU president sees athletics as marketing vehicleâ€ here if you like, although the article is obviously WVU-centric which may not be of interest to SFNâ€™s readers. But there are two comments that Jim Clements made that I would like to highlight.
The first quote is:
â€œWe have a huge impact on this state. I think people at this university very much know that we drive economic development. We drive what happens in the community. We’re engaged across every county across the state. We understand extension and outreach. This university gets it. For me, this had everything. You sit there and say, “Wow, this university is known for national research programs, quality academics, but also high-visibility sports, which brings great awareness about other things on campus. It helps recruiting. It helps recruiting faculty. It helps marketing.â€
The second quote is:
â€œI sat last December and watched the Meineke Car Care Bowl. I watched the Mountaineers beat UNC-Chapel Hill in a great game, as you know. I turned the channel a couple hours later and West Virginia University was at Ohio State University, which was undefeated at the time, in basketball and we crushed them. You have to sit there and think “What’s the marketing value of this to the campus to have two huge wins for recruiting students, for recruiting faculty, for recruiting administrators?” There’s a significant dollar value. This year we’re on ESPN how many times? Like, five? There is value to that.â€
We can only hope that the new administration at NC State would have the same outlook on the contributions a successful, highly visible athletic department can make to the university as a whole. Sports can be that hook to pull a student, a professor or a business partner to the school that allows them to discover the engineering programs, the stat department, the vet school, etc.
There are a couple of recent in-state examples of schools that got a boost in applications and interest in the school after high profile accomplishments in athletics.
A November 2007 story in the Appalachian St school newspaper gives some credit to Appyâ€™s win over Michigan at the Big House for a 25% increase in applications. The director of admissions, Paul N. Hiatt is quoted as saying
â€œAlmost everyone is aware of the Michigan victoryâ€¦athletics did bring a lot of focus to the university, but it also brought focus to all the other positive things that are happening hereâ€
Davidsonâ€™s run to the Elite Eight also had a positive impact on the school. According to an article on Charlotteâ€™s WBTV.com, Davidson saw a 13% increase in applications, a 17% increase in prospective students visiting the school and has also helped football recruiting. Here are quotes from director of admissions Dave Kraus
“Did it impact national interest for Davidson? Absolutely”
and from head football coach Tripp Merritt
“If you’re a young man or woman sitting in California or Iowa or Idaho watching us in the Elight Eight.. you have a tendency to get on line maybe do a little more research.. find out what you can about Davidson College”
Another article about Davidson points out that the average daily sales at the campus bookstore is $1,700 but had $35,000 in sales the first day Sweet Sixteen t-shirts were available. The school also saw a 1200% increase in transfer inquiries and even received applications despite being past the deadline.
One could make the argument that Appy and Davidson, being smaller schools, needed those athletics successes to put themselves on the map and that NC State was already on the map, and that is a fair point.
As a counterpoint, one of the reasons given for the firing of Lennie Barton as the Alumni Relations Executive Director was â€œthe group was struggling financially and its membership had been stagnant for yearsâ€. How many of us have been reluctant to donate money to the university after years of mediocrity in athletics (combined with the recent scandals in the administration as well as the economy)? I know I fit that category.
For another look on the impact of athletic success on applications that includes bigger schools, a January 2008 study done by professors at The Wharton School and Virginia Tech that was to be published in the Southern Economic Journal (you can download the study here) found that â€œfootball and basketball success significantly increase the quantity of applications to a school, with estimates ranging from 2-8% for the top 20 football schools and the top 16 basketball schools each yearâ€.
The study, using data from 1983 to 2002, found that for basketball, just making the big dance gives a school a 1% increase in applications the following year, a 3% increase for Sweet Sixteen teams, a 4-5% increase for the Final Four teams and a 7-8% increase for the national champ.
For football, the study found that schools ending the season ranked in the top 20 saw a 2.5% increase in applications the following year, a 3% increase for the top 10 and a 7-8% increase for the national champ.
And if Iâ€™m understanding it correctly, the study also finds that the effect diminishes after 2-4 years, so those Philip Rivers bowl games and Julius Hodge tourney bids arenâ€™t helping us out any more. The study also looks at the SAT score range for the applicants as well as increases in admissions which you can read about if you are so inclined.
Here is a great article from Hawaii Business about the potential effects of Hawaii’s recent Sugar Bowl appearance that has some great information on George Mason and Boise State.
GMU president Alan G. Merten couldnâ€™t put his finger on the dollar value of all the free publicity the school received, but school officials did have precise numbers on some of the results. In 2006, the school saw freshmen applications increase by 20 percent, while the number and size of campus tours for prospective students and parents nearly tripled. In addition, online registration to GMUâ€™s alumni directory grew 52 percent, which resulted in a 24 percent increase in alumni e-mail addresses on file and a 25 percent increase in alumni activity.
Why is this so important? Easy: A proud alumni network is a generous alumni network. In 2006, GMU received more than $23.2 million in new gifts and pledge payments compared to $19.6 million the previous year. Donations to athletic programs increased by 25 percent, general scholarship support nearly tripled and unrestricted gifts to the university increased by nearly 45 percent.
Online inquiries from prospective students increased 135 percent, with the universityâ€™s graduate college receiving 10 times as many application inquiries compared to the previous year. Overall, resulting applications increased by 9.1 percent, which netted a 3.5 percent rise in enrollment. For the first time in its history, BSUâ€™s student body exceeded 19,000.
Moneywise, the school foundation raised approximately $16 million for fiscal year â€™07, the second highest total on record. So far, its $175-million campaign, initiated in 2006, has already collected $78.6 million. On campus, the universityâ€™s bookstore earned $1.75 million in profits in 2006, selling $752,000 in school insignia merchandise in December, a month before the Fiesta Bowl. The storeâ€™s previous best month was December 2004 when it sold $359,000 in merchandise before the teamâ€™s appearance in the Liberty Bowl later that month. For comparison, in 1997, the bookstoreâ€™s annual sales from school insignia items totaled just $220,000.
George Mason and Boise St are smaller schools but, as the article shows, the effect can be found in bigger schools like Missouri in 2007:
During the Tigersâ€™ rise to No. 1 in the football polls, admission applications increased by 20 percent and donations pick up, too, on a pace to surpass 2006â€™s totals by $6 million.
The references to Doug Flutie in the Hawaii article led me to find this article in the Boston College Magazine that discusses the “Flutie Factor”
The number of applications to BC did increase 30 percent over Flutie’s junior and senior years.
At Georgetown University, whose men’s basketball team appeared in NCAA championship games in 1982, 1984, and 1985, applications rose 45 percent between 1983 and 1986. And freshman enrollment at Gonzaga University rose from 549 to 979 between 1997 and 2001, years in which Gonzaga’s men’s basketball team outplayed some of the nation’s powerhouses in the NCAA tournament. Were there other reasons for the rise of Georgetown and Gonzaga? No doubt, but they were not nationally televised.
BC does downplay the “Flutie Factor” as the article also points out that BC already had steady increases in applications (including a 9% increase in 1978 when the football team went 0-11) due to things like increased student housing and programs to build national enrollment. So there are obviously other factors involved but like the quote above says, “they were not nationally televised”.
With the mediocrity on the football field and basketball court, is NC State missing out on potential engineering students that are applying to Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech because they have good football teams? Is NC State missing out on money from donations and merchandise sales? Is NC State missing out on other publicity and marketing opportunities that come from athletic success? I think we probably are, what do you think?
And as the Hawaii Business article points out, “Why is this so important? Easy: A proud alumni network is a generous alumni network.”