No way to predict, but UNC expects its title to pay off

Staff WriterApril 10, 2009 

Mike Carlton spent the past few days in and around Chapel Hill monitoring the flow of North Carolina national championship merchandise into -- and out of -- retail outlets.

So far, the senior director of university services for the Collegiate Licensing Company said, the slumping economy hasn't dampened demand for Tar Heels souvenirs.

"In the last couple of days, in light of the current economic conditions which we see, which we definitely feel ... we've been really pleased with the initial orders we've seen," Carlton said.

Collecting rights fees from manufacturers using school logos on merchandise is the most obvious way North Carolina can profit economically from the NCAA men's basketball title it captured with an 89-72 defeat of Michigan State on Monday night in Detroit.

While school officials hope donations to the athletic department and the university's general fund will increase, there are no concrete statistics that predict they will. In 2005, the last year North Carolina won the NCAA basketball title, gifts to the university increased by $10 million to $202 million.

But the previous year, giving increased by $26 million with no trip to the Final Four. Rams Club executive director John Montgomery said donors to the athletic booster group and their support have steadily increased over the past five or six years, without any appreciable spike after the 2005 championship.

It's impossible to separate the impact of the championship from any downward effect of the faltering economy -- or from any increase in donations caused by excitement over improved football results.

UNC athletic director Dick Baddour said there are so many other variables to consider, but the championship will help the athletic program.

"In terms of good will, you can't measure it," Baddour said. "It's priceless in support for the program and people not only in donations, but in sponsorships through Learfield or anything that we do. Because of the success of the program, people will want to be involved, want to be helpful."

Example: George Mason

Robert Baker directs the Center for Sport Management at George Mason. He charted the impact of that school's unexpected trip to the 2006 Final Four, and the numbers were staggering.

Baker found that:

* Total freshman applications increased 22 percent.

* Patriot Club fundraising increased 52 percent.

* Season-ticket sales doubled in one year.

Such dramatic results are unlikely at North Carolina, because unlike George Mason's run to the Final Four, its NCAA title wasn't historically unprecedented.

Tar Heels basketball tickets, for example, essentially have been sold out for years.

"I don't think we'll see a great jump in applications, acceptances, or tours," North Carolina admissions director Steve Farmer said through a school spokeswoman. "The schools that benefit greatly are typically ones with much less name recognition than we have. We already do so well and have such a strong reputation academically that a great performance in the tournament will tend to underscore what people already think of us, rather than change their minds about us."

However, one benefit Baker calculated for George Mason also applies to North Carolina. Based on reviewing newspaper articles and broadcast time, Baker estimated that George Mason received $677,474,659 in free media exposure during the 2006 tournament.

Baker called it a conservative estimate, because he couldn't get copies of every newspaper in the United States to calculate how much total space George Mason was allotted.

Even though North Carolina already was a basketball power, Baker said the extra appearances in multiple media will benefit the school.

"To me, it all tracks back to exposure," Baker said. "In some cases, it can be the thing that while people might have heard about North Carolina, they may know a little bit more about them (now) or they may choose to dig a little bit more to find out more about them."

Money for scholarships

UNC can count on fans at least to spend money for shirts, hats and sweatshirts commemorating the championship.

In 2005, North Carolina set a record for the Collegiate Licensing Company's 160-plus schools with about $590,000 in revenue from NCAA basketball championship licensing alone.

Kansas surpassed that record last year, and Carlton is hoping North Carolina will turn in another big number despite the recession. After expenses, net licensing revenue goes to needy students at North Carolina.

In 2007-08, the last year for which figures are available, the school's trademark licensing program distributed $3,684,057 to the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, to be used for student support.

Carlton said that for more than 20 years, North Carolina has ranked no lower than sixth among schools on the CLC's national list for total licensing revenue. So the brand is strong, and the championship could make it stronger.

"North Carolina has always been one of our top performers," Carlton said. "In general, (the championship) will be impactful. I think we're all waiting to see just how impactful it will be, largely because of the current economic conditions."

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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