How March Madness leads to 'mad money'

'We couldn't afford to buy the kind of exposure our team earned'

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Success on the court during the NCAA basketball tournaments may translate to success in the development, marketing, and enrollment offices as well, reports NBC News.

The athletic gains can lead to corporate sponsorships, licensing deals, ticket sale revenue, boosts in applications and enrollments, and priceless media exposure for participating institutions—or as Bloomberg News put it, the NCAA tournament's March Madness can result in "mad money."

"Athletics has enabled us to grow exponentially. It helps us recruit students, enhances our ability to sell our program to the state legislature, and energizes alumni and others who might be called on for philanthropic support," said Philip Austin, then-president of University of Connecticut (UConn) in 1999 after his school won the men's championship game.

When Butler University advanced to the finals in 2010 and 2011, the institution's licensing grew about 350%, according to its athletics director Barry Collier.

"We root for stuff like what happened to Butler," says Tim Pernetti, IMG College's president of multimedia. "Corporate sponsors want to be attached to that type of success, and that's where we help the schools identify solutions and drive revenue."

George Mason University scored similar gains in 2006, when it won four upsets and advanced to the Final Four. An internal study found that total revenue grew $105.4 million, fundraising jumped $3.9 million, and a capital campaign beat its target by $32 million. On top of that, an additional 15 licensees led to a $100,000 increase in licensing revenue.

The tougher-to-measure—but perhaps more valuable—effect of the tournament comes from the heavy media attention given to colleges and universities that advance.

Butler hired a firm to track the school's publicity across online, TV, and print media. They found it received coverage worth more about $639 million from March to December of the 2010 NCAA basketball tournaments.

"We couldn't afford to buy the kind of exposure our team earned," says Collins.

A similar estimate from George Mason in 2006 found its media coverage, which included the cover of Sports Illustrated, was worth $677 million.

"It doesn't matter who you are or where you're seeded. When good things happen, it's a validation of the event," says Pernetti (NBC News, 3/10; Horrow/Swatek, Bloomberg, 3/17/11). 

The takeaway: Success in the NCAA basketball tournaments can translate to millions in revenue for colleges and universities.

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