Almost three months ago, we briefly explained how the football team is a cash cow for every other university in the United States. Division I football squads are allotted up to 85 athletic scholarships. While that sum may seem outrageous, the return on investment is massive.
Here is a simplified version of how it works: if a team wins a lot of games and is consistently fighting for championships, it will attract better prospective athletes. If they are capable of sustaining such success, broadcasting companies will cough up humongous amounts of money in exchange for the TV rights. Said revenue will allow the university to build better facilities, provide their student-athletes with more pleasant travel and accommodation conditions, etc.
Basketball does not lag too far behind. In fact, CBS/Turner Sports reached an agreement with the NCAA to secure the March Madness broadcasting rights for eight additional years, between 2024 and 2032. The deal is reportedly worth $8.8 billion.
Let’s focus now on the specific case of the Gonzaga Bulldogs who, merely a month and a half ago concluded their greatest season ever with a narrow National Championship Game loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Twenty years ago, Gonzaga was a little private institution in the middle of nowhere flummoxed by a gargantuan debt that led some of its leaders to consider dropping out of NCAA Division I.
All of the sudden, something clicked. In 1999, the Zags put together a miraculous run to the Elite 8. Ever since then, Gonzaga’s men’s basketball team has never missed its yearly date with postseason ball. With star forwards Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis leaving last summer for the NBA, the 2016/17 crew was not facing large expectations. Yet, the Bulldogs were really close to hoisting the NCAA trophy.
A few days ago, The Spokesman-Review, a local newspaper in eastern Washington, revealed the media exposure the Zags produced during March Madness added up to a not too shabby $406 million.
Among the consequences of this ‘free’ publicity is the fact Gonzaga’s student admission offices have received over 10,000 more inquiries than last year to join the school.
“It [the basketball team’s success] is a benefit for enrollment in helping us attract the best and brightest students. And it benefits our fundraising,” said GU spokesman Peter Tormey.
Moreover, Gonzaga’s websites amassed over two million views throughout the tournament, a fourth of their yearly total on a regular year. 350K clicks came on the National Championship Day. That is absurd.
“We’ll do everything to take advantage of that kind of exposure to be a financially healthy university, provide scholarships and get students here to Spokane,” affirmed Dave Sonntag, GU’s associate vice president for marketing and communications.
This is the umpteenth example that, in America, sports and universities go hand in hand. Not only that, but on plenty of occasions, the institution is fuelled by the revenue created by the athletic department.
Text: Pablo Mosquera