What Wins Are Worth

Surprising March Madness runs help underdogs raise their profiles — and their bottom lines

By Brian Burnsed

When Loyola Chicago, an 11 seed, knocked off Kansas State to earn an improbable trip to the 2018 Final Four in San Antonio, the Ramblers found themselves in an unfamiliar place: the limelight. And while their journey ended at the hands of Michigan in the national semifinals, history suggests the goodwill generated by four upset tournament wins will provide a lasting boon for the 11,000-student school.

A handful of other low seeds — a mix of relative unknowns and small universities — have made memorable marches through March in recent years. And that fleeting time in the sun has borne fruit: An influx of applicants, donations, merchandise sales, even infrastructure investments often follow. Just how meaningful are a few wins in March, and what might be in store for Loyola Chicago?

GEORGE MASON

2006 — Reached Final Four

 

Additional impact: Bookstore merchandise sales hit $800,000 in March 2006 alone, up from $625,000 for the entire 2004-05 school year. Associate Athletics Director Maureen Nasser says media still mention the school each March.

BUTLER

2010, 2011 — Reached national championship game

 

Additional impact: Home basketball game attendance has jumped by more than 20 percent since the first Final Four appearance. Annual applicants also have nearly tripled since 2010.

VCU

2011 — Reached Final Four

 

Additional impact: The Rams have sold out 117 straight home basketball games, starting with the four final home games of their landmark 2011 season. Additionally, a slew of local businesses immediately began selling VCU merchandise.

FLORIDA GULF COAST

2013 — Reached Sweet 16

 

Additional impact: Sales of licensed school merchandise have more than tripled since 2012, and Athletics Director Ken Kavanagh says the days of seeing students wearing other schools’ gear have passed. In addition, the average GPA of the entering freshman class rose from 3.35 in 2012 to 3.81 in 2016.