Understanding the Power of a Final Four Appearance

A three thousand percent lift on combined social media impressions is just the beginning. Tom Sorboro, Senior Associate Athletic Director at Loyola University Chicago, describes some of the ways the Ramblers benefited from their big dance in 2018.

As fans of college basketball flock to viewing parties and local watering holes to watch their favorite teams compete in what is arguably the most important competition in college sports, we’ve got the inside scoop on the mobile experiences that power the tournament -- from Selection Sunday to the Final Four — in our blog series #mobilemadness. In this post, we take a look at last year’s Final Four where one team’s success earned them much more than a championship title.

What kind of impact does a trip to the Final Four have on a college basketball team’s digital audience? And how can athletic departments plan for success? Tom Sorboro of Loyola University Chicago gives us the real deal details on how the Ramblers prepared for the onslaught of eyeballs — and what they earned as a result.

Last year, the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers were the cinderella story of the big dance. Those on the business side of sports know how powerful a run like that can be for a team’s bottom line -- in any sport at almost any level -- from collegiate to professional competition. Just how impactful, you ask? In an interview with Tom Sorboro, Senior Associate Athletic Director of External Operations at LUC, we got the details on what the team’s run to the Final Four did for their athletics program, and how they set themselves up to succeed.

Strategic investment in video and graphics production
Long before the men’s basketball team qualified for the NCAA tournament, the athletics department at Loyola University Chicago put some key people in place to support their digital marketing efforts. A director of video production and a graphic designer to be exact. This strategic move gave them the tools to build consistently compelling content — things like video recaps and inside access shots — all season long for their fans to enjoy. “Had those hires not been in place, we would have missed a tremendous opportunity to elevate our brand and engage with folks who had no idea who we were,” said Sorboro. “This was a huge key for us in terms of capitalizing on all the things that the Final Four can bring.”

Visual content for a hyper engaged audience
Once the Ramblers made the NCAA tournament, things started heating up across their digital channels. This was expected due to increased interest in the team as they embarked on their journey into the competition. And as the story typically goes, the more the team won, the bigger their digital audience became. Loyola’s digital production team kept the content coming, and the fans continued to consume it. “Because of the number of eyes on Loyola during the tournament, our engagement went through the roof,” Sorboro said. “Our website impressions went up 1000% year over year, and our combined social media impressions increased by over 3000%.”

Data reflects Page Views from Ramblers.com. Social impressions combined from Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. All data courtesy Loyola University Chicago Athletics.

Data reflects Page Views from Ramblers.com. Social impressions combined from Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. All data courtesy Loyola University Chicago Athletics.

Prayers from Sister Jean
It seems that sports fans of all ages and affinities have heard of Sister Jean, the now famous face of Loyola’s 6th man, who sent the team’s popularity soaring into the stratosphere as the 2018 tournament progressed. This holy icon became the center of conversation across platforms - from the live broadcast to Twitter where celebrities and professional athletes alike chimed in, driving her popularity — and the team’s fan base — to new heights. “Having her as part of what made Loyola interesting and attractive allowed us to further maximize the visibility that we really had no control over. The way the national media and fans embraced her was something hugely powerful. I think we maximized the opportunity, but you can’t plan for that,” Sorboro said.

A major win for licensed merchandise
Soon Sister Jean’s face, the maroon and gold signature scarves and the team’s licensed merchandise would pop up in stores all over Chicago, from Dick’s Sporting Goods to Kohls. Sorboro reported that over 15,000 Sister Jean bobbleheads were sold in March and April of 2018, and that number has continued to increase. “According to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, the Sister Jean bobblehead is the best selling sports-related bobblehead of all time,” said Sorboro. Licensed products have since been a very healthy revenue stream for LUC athletics, and most of the new retail locations still carry the merchandise.

We added 35 new retail locations around Chicago. Stores that wouldn’t stock our apparel in the past started carrying our stuff. The revenue we realized for the month of March 2018 was greater than any previous full year’s worth of licensing revenue.
— Tom Sorboro, Senior Associate Athletic Director, Loyola University Chicago Athletics

Significant increases in ticket sales and elsewhere
Due to the team’s success on and off the court, season ticket sales more than tripled for 2018-19 men’s basketball. In the press, the team saw close to 1 billion dollars in earned media from stories published on sources like USA Today and Yahoo! Sports. Fundraising and sponsorship also saw a significant lift.

Winning matters… culture matters
It’s widely known that a winning performance in the spotlight can do incredible things. In this story, that was clearly the case. But team culture was in play here, too, as was the preparation of the LUC athletics department. With the help of Sister Jean, a solid production team and an ecstatic fanbase, the Ramblers have created what some might call a blueprint for success in the NCAA tournament. Who will be this year’s story?

Final Four, here we come.

Follow along with our original content series #mobilemadness as we share the 411 on all things mobile for college hoops.

Reilly McClure @reillymcclure is marketing lead and customer success coach at From Now On.