I don't know about you, but I love a good fairy tale. Especially when it involves Cinderella and a basketball. This year, the role of Cinderella is being played by University of Dayton, which earned its first berth in the Elite Eight since 1984.
While the rest of us are glued to our television screens, administrators and communications professionals in Dayton are scrambling to answer media requests and capitalize on their moment in the sun. No matter what happens against Florida tomorrow, Dayton will be basking in the afterglow for months, if not years, to come.
Last year's Cinderella, Florida Gulf Coast University, has seen website traffic, merchandise sales, and applications skyrocket in the months since the Eagles became the first No. 15 seed to ever make it to the Sweet 16.
In the first quarter of 2013, which encompassed the tournament, Florida Gulf Coast saw merchandise sales increase revenue from royalties by 316%. Sales surged into the second quarter, spiking royalties by 616%. Those increases translated into $50,000 more revenue for the first two quarters of 2013 from merchandise alone.
Dayton is experiencing a similar merchandise boom. The on-campus bookstore has processed more than 2,000 online orders for tournament T-shirts, in addition to other items purchased during those sales. Flyer Spirit, a student-run store on campus, has seen sales five times higher than last March.
The big money, however, is in increased applications, especially from out-of-state students.
In a study titled "Understanding College Application Decisions: Why College Sports Success Matters," economists concluded, "While a sports victory for a given school may not change the awareness of in-state students regarding its existence, the sports victory may present a significant shock in attention/awareness for out-of-state students."
And certainly that's been true for FGCU. Not only did overall applications to the university rise by 39% this year, applications from out-of-state students increased by a whopping 68%.
Why does that matter?
Because out-of-state tuition is more than four times greater than in-state tuition at FGCU. A 12-hour credit load for an in-state student would cost $2,448, while an out-of-state student would pay $10,068. Multiply that by each student and each semester they're enrolled and we start talking about real cash for FGCU.
VCU had a similar experience following the Rams' Final Four appearance in 2011 and making it into the third round in 2012. Ninety-two percent of first-time freshman in the fall 2008 class at VCU were from Virginia. Flash forward to the fall of 2012 and that number had decreased to 85%. At 2012 tuition rates, that increase in out-of-state enrollment equated to $3.4 million in increased tuition revenue for the year.
A more giving spirit
There are other impacts as well. For example, VCU saw athletic donations swell by 376% in the year following its Final Four appearance.
Butler University, after its runs to the national title game in 2010 and 2011, commissioned studies by media firms and found the publicity value of its performances worth $1.2 billion. In essence, a deep run in the tournament can act as a national advertising campaign, which inspires both donors and applicants.
Dayton is keeping an eye on the publicity already. The school says the university website – www.udayton.edu – has seen traffic increase eightfold. An average week clocks 24,940 visits and 72,301 page views from 16,898 unique users. Since March 20, the website has registered 204,923 visits and 565,660 page views from 135,292 visitors.
A monitoring service, TV Eyes, shows at least 3,426 hits for "Dayton Flyers" and at least 1,273 for "University of Dayton" since March 20. During the same period, "Dayton Flyers" and #daytonflyers have 49,200 mentions by 37,300 people. Over 23,600 mentions by 18,600 people have registered for "University of Dayton," @univofdayton, #univofdayton and "univofdayton."
Most studies agree that the afterglow of this sort of sports exposure is two to three years, so Dayton will have some time to reap the benefits and capitalize on the attention. If it can topple the University of Florida and continue its Cinderella run, that glass slipper will only increase in value for the school.