SBJ/February 16 - 22, 2004/Finance

Revenue piles up with wins at St. Joe’s

Saint Joseph's Athletic Director Don DiJulia knew his men's basketball program would be good this year — just not this good.

"This wasn't even in God's plans," DiJulia said

last week, one day before the team pushed its record to 21-0 heading into play this past weekend.

For any team to be undefeated this far into the season is a rarity. For a school like St. Joe's, a 3,850-student Jesuit university in Philadelphia, "it doesn't happen," DiJulia said.

Division I college basketball has been dominated in recent years by schools from major, football-playing conferences. Atlantic 10 Conference member St. Joe's is not one of those schools, and the nation's interest in the program has been sparked as a result.

Tickets are near impossible to get. A waiting list for sponsors has started. Sales of licensed merchandise have doubled, and cash and trade from sponsorship and advertising revenue is up more than threefold.

St. Joe's doesn't have football. It doesn't have the $30 million-plus athletic department budget of a Stanford, Duke or UConn. The university subsidizes about 70 percent of the Hawks athletic department budget, which this school year is about $7 million for 20 sports.

But $7 million is enough by DiJulia's count. About $1.7 million is budgeted for men's basketball.

"We think we do enough for the kind of school we are and the kind of market we're in," DiJulia said. "It's not just about dollars. It's about lots of things — location, conference, television, whether you're hooked into a I-A conference and leveraged because of that. ... It's good fortune. In basketball, you only need one or two high-level players."

St. Joe's has those players in Jameer Nelson and Delonte West. Last week, they and their Hawks teammates stood with Stanford as the only undefeated Division I teams in the country. The spotlight has become familiar for Pac-10 Conference member Stanford, which made it to the Final Four in 1998 and boasts appearances in nine of the last 10 Division I men's basketball tournaments. St. Joe's has been to only three of the last 10 tournaments, though two of its visits were in the last three years. This season, it could be looking at a No. 1 seed in the tournament — creating never-before-seen demand from local fans who want a look at the team.

But with the exception of a handful of games played at The Palestra, with a capacity of 8,700, St. Joe's plays most of its home games in 3,200-seat Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse. That means the school can't accommodate everyone who wants to get in.

Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse’s 3,200 seats are filled to watch Jameer Nelson and the Hawks.
Season tickets were sold out before the season started, and the waiting list to get season tickets is now at least two seasons long, DiJulia estimated, adding that the school has no immediate plans for facility expansion.

Single-game tickets haven't been available for weeks, leading to standing-room-only crowds. Media representatives from around the country are clamoring for spots among only 80 press-row seats. NBA scouts also want in.

DiJulia said his office receives 25 to 30 ticket requests a day. St. Joe's athletic marketing director Tim Curran said he's been getting about 12 requests a day, and that's only for corporate-sponsor types.

About the only way to get in to a St. Joe's game now is if you're at the level of the pope or president, DiJulia joked.

Or, apparently, if you're the president of a prominent university partner, though even that requires some effort.

Last Tuesday, one day before St. Joe's game against conference-rival Dayton, Curran said he got a call from officials at the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co., which is the exclusive beverage provider to the university, to see if there was an extra ticket available for the company's president.

When Curran asked DiJulia how he should respond to the request, DiJulia, knowing at that time there were no seats available, told Curran: "Tell him he's in." After some shuffling of athletic department employees, a seat was made available.

Sponsors also now have a wait-list to have an association with the department.

Curran said sponsor inventory around basketball sold out after six new sponsors came on board during the season, bringing the department's total to 25 partners who have signed deals ranging from one year to multiyear agreements. Sponsors pay between $5,000 and $25,000 a year for their affiliations.

Existing partners wanting to add to their packages have done so in the form of hospitality events or campus viewing parties of away games. For St. Joe's game at Villanova on Feb. 2, sponsors hosted a viewing party in the fieldhouse. Four big-screen TVs were set up, the cheerleaders were there, the Hawk mascot was there, public announcements were made, goody bags were passed out — and 2,500 people showed up. Domenic Celenza, vice president of cola sales for the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co., a sponsor of the campus viewing party, hopes the sudden hype and exposure around the team will create additional opportunities in the future.

Thanks to restructuring of the department's sponsorship program before the start of the season, which created additional inventory, along with the new sponsors and advertisers, St. Joe's is projecting to take in $500,000 in cash and trade from sponsorship and advertising this year. That's up from between $100,000 and $150,000 last year.

In addition, sales of licensed merchandise between Jan. 1 and Feb. 11 were up 113 percent compared with the same period last year, said Paula Straka, general manager of St. Joe's bookstore. In-arena sales of licensed merchandise at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse and at the Palestra are also brisk, with per-game sales up more than 200 percent, Straka said.

Together, it's a situation that DiJulia calls more than great.

"If you think it's great," he said, "square great, square it again, and then you're halfway there to understanding how great all of this is."

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