The postseason success of the Michigan men’s basketball team, particularly its NCAA Tournament run to the title game, generated considerable buzz among the Michigan fan base, which has an extended reach across the country.
Apparel and merchandise sales at the M Den, Michigan’s official merchandise retailer, were brisk coming off the Wolverines’ second straight Big Ten tournament title. And after Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beating shot catapulted the Wolverines into the Sweet Sixteen, the race to buy went up a notch.
“It was nuts,” M Den owner Scott Hirth said. “Fans were really fired up for this team and they loved the Big Ten champs, Sweet Sixteen and Final Four merchandise we had.”
According to research from the Ann-Arbor based company Joyce Julius & Associates, which measures and analyzes all forms of media, from the beginning of the Big Ten tournament through the day after the national championship game in which the Wolverines fell to Villanova, they were mentioned in 80,950 news media stories (television, internet, print).
The company calculates the exposure value of a brand and translates that into the amount it would have cost to obtain that exposure through traditional advertising.
“If you compare the cumulative audience from the media coverage to the cost reaching the same audience through traditional advertising, the exposure value of the coverage approaches an estimated $125 million,” said Eric Wright, president and director of Joyce Julius Research. “Additionally, the national game telecasts, from the Big Ten tournament through the (NCAA) championship game, easily increase the exposure value for Michigan another $20-$30 million.”
The 80,000-plus mentions are an “extremely high” number, Wright said.
What does it mean tangibly for the Michigan basketball program and the athletic department overall? It means they were the subject of a significant number of news stories, but beyond that, it’s mainly an ego stroke.
“It’s a nice brag number for Michigan,” Wright said. “It doesn’t mean anything too tangible, but it is impressive. Nobody else in the Big Ten went that far (in the NCAA Tournament). The other programs are not getting covered those weeks, so they’re alone in the spotlight for that. It doesn’t hurt.”
Michigan also will get a nice chunk of change from the NCAA basketball fund that provides money distributed to the conferences based on their performance in the tournament over a six-year rolling period. A conference can share the total evenly among its member programs but isn’t required to do so.
Last year, for instance, each program received about $1.7 million from that fund.
Norm O’Reilly, the chair of the department of sports administration at Ohio University, said that generally speaking, a run like the one Michigan’s basketball team enjoyed can drive increases in school applications and enrollment.
But for the more established athletic departments, like Michigan’s, something like this tournament success won’t impact enrollment. Maybe Michigan gains a few fans, but that’s probably about it, he said.
“There’s definitely a positive, but it’s probably muted,” O’Reilly said. “Don’t underestimate the academic brand. When you’re talking about Michigan, which already has a leading football team, and tons of leading (athletic) programs, it’s wonderful branding for the basketball program, but the institution is already known as an ultra-elite athlete school and academic school.
“The incremental benefit is modest, simply because they already have it.”
O’Reilly said it could potentially help in basketball recruiting as a recruit weighs Michigan among other finalists.
The M Den benefited in sales also because the Michigan men’s hockey team reached the Frozen Four, so there was a high pitch of enthusiasm among Michigan fans. There were several double-sport promotions with shirts and pins that boosted sales, as well.
But Hirth said this basketball Final Four run was bigger in terms of merchandise sales than Michigan’s run five years ago. Why was that the case?
“A couple things – basketball is bigger now, and the ‘John Beilein Effect’ is in full swing,” said Hirth, who said the merchandise will be available for purchase during Saturday’s spring football game at the M Den Michigan Stadium location. “It’s not a surprise like it was five years ago. We’re good. We have a good basketball program now, and I think the Frozen Four component played a role. Fans were fired up.”