Jan 24, 2012 Neil Benjamin Jr. Uncategorized
This story was reported and written prior to the team’s first loss and also before former Penn State coach Joe Paterno passed away.
The Syracuse University men’s basketball team is enjoying some of its biggest success in recent memory this season. At 20-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country as of Jan. 20, the Orange are running toward history while still dealing with the fallout from the Bernie Fine scandal.
Still, in the midst of the stunning accusations about the former assistant coach’s sexual involvement with underage boys is a university engulfed with pride for a team that right now can seem to do no wrong.
Clearly, the Orange’s success outweighs the negative press the school has received, as evidenced by home attendance and the thriving economy around the Carrier Dome and the city in general. The 2010-11 season was the third consecutive campaign the men’s team finished second in the country in home attendance, just behind the University of Kentucky, according to suathletics.com. Syracuse’s 22,312 home average was about 1,300 behind the Wildcats, who have led the statistic for 15 out of the past 16 seasons.
So far this season, the Orange are averaging 21,624 fans per home contest, showing the local mindset wasn’t very affected by the Fine allegations. Couple that with a historic start, and the men’s team has essentially shielded the campus and downtown areas from the seemingly stagnant economy.
Dr. Tom H. Regan, associate professor at the University of South Carolina in the Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, has studied the economic impact sports and entertainment have on local and regional economies for the bulk of his adult life. Some of his award-winning studies include an in-depth look at how the Denver Broncos affect the Denver metro area in terms of its economy, and similar insights about his current university’s impact.
Regan focuses on a few main points in his work: Can the experience be enhanced? Is it feasible to keep it going? How does pricing and marketing fit in with location? Has there been an increase in season ticket sales? (SU does not release information on season ticket sales.) They’re just some of the questions he tries to answer.
In regard to Syracuse, Regan was pretty blunt in his responses.
“Winning helps the brand, especially in Syracuse,” he said. “Locally, merchandise sales go up. They get a No. 1 ranking which gives them national stature, therefore the Orange’s brand will continue to stretch across the country.”
He cited several trends for Syracuse, most notably that the team is consistently on ESPN as the featured game of the day.
In the national media, much has been said about the Fine allegations, as well as what happened at Penn State. Jerry Sandusky, former assistant to legendary football coach Joe Paterno, is in a scandal involving sex abuse accusations.
“The best thing to happen for Syracuse was the Sandusky case,” Regan added. “Penn State handled the situation much differently than did Syracuse. The SU administration acted quickly to make the necessary adjustments. In New York, Sandusky and Penn State take all the heat.
“Couple that with the success, the 20 wins in a row, and everything that has happened in Syracuse gets overshadowed by success.”
Winning. You see it all the time in college sports, that when a team starts winning, the national limelight shines incredibly bright. Smaller, lesser-known schools seem to pop in and out of the consciousness so quickly that you don’t really get to see what’s happening. Take the last few NCAA Tournaments for example and answer this question: Do you remember talking to your friends about Butler University prior? What about Virginia Commonwealth University? Both of those schools have made unprecedented trips to the Final 4 recently. Unless these schools sustain similar success, Regan says, they won’t be able to build a national branding anywhere near Syracuse’s, Duke’s or North Carolina’s.
“You look at the ceiling with those schools: How much better can they get?” he said. “Then you look at the traditional college powers [in basketball]. The schools know what they have, so they do everything they can to expand the brand. They bring in these coaches that are great for the program and keep them around a while. Just look at Boeheim — he does a great job there. He’s one of the legendary coaches in the game, so the school is able to market him as such. Kids want to play there, and they are consistently good.”
To branch off his last point, Regan explained that Syracuse’s rabid fan base isn’t going anywhere.
“Students have a passion and spontaneity that’s unmatched when the team is successful,” Regan added. “They’re the best customers. They even do a lot of the advertising and marketing for the school. If those fans have an experience they will never forget, that will carry on by word-of-mouth and in other ways.”
If you look at local t-shirt and memorabilia shops on Marshall Street, it’s quite apparent. Original Manny’s, a t-shirt shop near campus, is rife with orange, both the color and the team. The store has historically kept up to date with trends and this year is no different.
Looking to cash in on the men’s team’s success, Manny’s has produced a bevy of “20-0” shirts. A brief walk through campus shows it’s been a fruitful venture, as many students are already donning the new trend.
Mike Theiss, Manny’s general manager, said he has seen a spike in sales this season.
“Without a doubt, our sales of basketball shirts are directly related to the team’s success,” Theiss said.
While he didn’t have exact numbers in comparison to recent years’ sales, Theiss did say he’s noticed the store is busier lately.
Restaurants and bars have also seen a rise in sales. Tully’s Restaurant, which has a few locations in the Syracuse area including a place on Erie Boulevard, is pasted with Orange memorabilia, including newspaper clippings from past Final 4s and championships. There are autographed pictures and jerseys. If you’re a Syracuse fan, Tully’s is an inviting place to watch the game.
Dan Giamartino is a part-owner of Tully’s. While he maintains his business is “a family restaurant with a bar attached,” he did say the Orange’s success has helped the restaurant.
“It’s hard to monetize the impact right now,” he said. “Anytime there is more attention paid to them, there’s a bigger interest in going somewhere to watch the game rather than stay at home. We have definitely been busier than last year, and in other years during the basketball season. I believe it’s because of the Syracuse brand.”
Other establishments around the campus said there’s been an uptick in sales and patronage, but none could give exact numbers to back it up.
At the end of the day, Regan said, it all comes down to success. If people know they can have an extraordinary experience somewhere, they are more likely to spend their discretionary money on said event.
“This team right now is on the path toward history,” Regan said. “With each victory, they get closer, and people want to be a part of that history. Times are tough, but there are still those out there unaffected by the economy. Couple that with history, and I don’t think there will be anything but growth around the team.”
Neil Benjamin Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.