SBD/March 23, 2011/Colleges

Richmond, VCU Looking To Capitalize On Surprising Runs To The Sweet 16

Richmond making first appearance in Sweet Sixteen since '88
It is "too soon to quantify the windfall awaiting" the Univ. of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth Univ. thanks to their basketball teams' unlikely runs to the Sweet Sixteen, but the two Richmond schools are "working to make the most of their 15 minutes of fame," according to Michael Schwartz of RICHMONDBIZSENSE.com. VCU Dir of University Marketing Cynthia Schmidt said that the terms "VCU," "Shaka Smart" and "Joey Rodriguez" (VCU's coach and starting PG) were the "top trending topics on Twitter in the country on Sunday," when VCU beat Purdue. Schmidt: "That's beating out Justin Bieber. Beyond just the merchandise, you really can't put a price tag on that top-of-mind awareness. ... We're just talking about ways to capitalize on it." Schwartz noted "sales of Sweet Sixteen T-shirts don't hurt, either." Richmond Dir of Media Relations Brian Eckert: "We do suddenly get a lot more calls for UR merchandise. Those Sweet Sixteen shirts are supposed to arrive tomorrow" (RICHMONDBIZSENSE.com, 3/22).

COMMUNITY EFFORT: Mike Winiecki, a member of the '88 Richmond team, the last from the school to make the Sweet 16, said, "The publicity you get for the schools, it's just off the charts." But in Richmond, Martz & Kapsidelis write the "challenge for the Richmond region isn't just preparing for VCU and UR to play in the Sweet 16," it is "how to make the most of a national spotlight that suddenly has found Richmond with two potential Cinderella teams crashing the Big Dance." Richmond-based The Martin Agency Senior VP & Dir of Corporate Communications Dean Jarrett "sees the teams' success as a natural fit for the RVA Creates marketing campaign launched last month by a partnership that includes The Martin Agency, Venture Richmond and the Brandcenter at VCU." Venture Richmond "has ordered T-shirts with the RVA brand and both team logos on them, and is working feverishly on bigger plans." Venture Richmond Exec Dir Jack Berry: "We've doubled the T-shirt order already, and we're planning a community pep rally downtown" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 3/22).

REAPING REWARDS: CNBC.com's Darren Rovell noted Richmond's "first run to the Sweet 16 since 1998 will bring in much needed dollars." The school "has been trying to restore Millheiser Gym, where the teams played from 1921-1947, into a state-of-the-art practice facility for the men's and women's teams." VCU last month said that it "would add 200 seats and a new club level to its 7,500-seat Siegel Center," and VCU AD Norwood Teague said that "greater fundraising due to the tournament could hasten the timetable." Meanwhile, Butler is still alive in the tournament after making the Final Four last year, and Butler AD Barry Collier said that the school's athletic department, "which is a non-profit organization, has already set a record for donations and that's with two more months to go in the fiscal year" (CNBC.com, 3/22).

CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION: ESPN.com's Diamond Leung noted Morehead State Univ.'s bookstore is selling a T-shirt following the Kentucky school's "upset win against Louisville in the opening round of the NCAA tournament." The front of the shirt includes an Eagle and the "red feathers of a Cardinal it has just devoured, along with the date and final score, 62-61." The back of the shirt, referring to Louisville's new KFC Yum! Center, reads, "YUM! TASTES LIKE VICTORY!" (ESPN.com, 3/21).
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