The Colt Effect
How UH will Gain Much More Than $4 Million in BCS Bucks
Chances are that by the time you read this article, the University of Hawaii Warriors’ storybook football season will have come to an end, culminating with an appearance at the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the mighty University of Georgia Bulldogs. It is/was a Kawika vs. Goliath contest that the most ardent Warrior fan couldn’t have predicted. However, even if the Warriors’ improbable fairy-tale season ended more like Carrie than Cinderella, the story isn’t finished. Actually, it’s only beginning.
For the Georgias, Floridas, USCs and Ohio States of the college football world, an appearance in one of the five coveted Bowl Championship Series games is certainly a cause for celebration, but for schools such as UH, usually found on the sidelines of the action, the event can be epic. The game itself and the media circus surrounding it, with its seemingly never-ending march of pre-game prognosticators and post-game coroners, gave Hawaii’s football team and school unprecedented national exposure. But the frenzy didn’t just build excitement and pride for alumni and Island football fans, which will eventually dissipate along with the beer buzz, it will also yield some very tangible benefits for the school.
This post-game phenomenon is known in academic and media circles as the “Flutie Factor” or “Flutie Effect” and is characterized by a substantial increase of interest and outpouring of support for a school as the result of its athletic achievement. The Flutie Effect is named after the diminutive (5-foot-9-inch, 176 pounds) quarterback from the once-diminutive Boston College, who threw a Hail Mary pass to defeat the powerful University of Miami, 45 to 41, in 1984. The play tightened the quarterback’s grip on the Heisman Trophy, which he won several weeks later.
During and after Flutie’s giant-killing season, Boston College experienced significant increases in admission applications: According to a 2003 article in the Boston College magazine, the number of applications increased 16 percent in 1984, from 12,414 to 14,398, and then another 12 percent to 16,163 in 1985. Some even credit the iconic moment and the excitement in its aftermath with speeding along the school’s transformation from a regional college to a national university.
Since Flutie’s historic pass, media and their audiences have grown exponentially and the benefits from sudden and significant time in the national spotlight have exploded. Take, for example, George Mason University’s unbelievable Final Four run in the 2006 NCAA Championship basketball tournament. A last-minute, at-large participant, the Patriots beat perennial powers and former champions Michigan State, University of North Carolina and UConn to reach the tournament’s semifinals. Even though GMU lost to eventual champion University of Florida, the school experienced Flutie-like admission and other increases.
AFTER THE FAT LADY SINGS
Here’s a brief rundown of some of the schools that have experienced “Flutie Effect” increases in admission applications and donations:
Georgetown University, 1983 - 86
Boston College, 1984 & 85
George Mason University, 2006
Boise State University, 2007
University of Missouri, 2007
In a March 14, 2007, press release, GMU president Alan G. Merten couldn’t put his finger on the dollar value of all the free publicity the school received, but school officials did have precise numbers on some of the results. In 2006, the school saw freshmen applications increase by 20 percent, while the number and size of campus tours for prospective students and parents nearly tripled. In addition, online registration to GMU’s alumni directory grew 52 percent, which resulted in a 24 percent increase in alumni e-mail addresses on file and a 25 percent increase in alumni activity.
Why is this so important? Easy: A proud alumni network is a generous alumni network. In 2006, GMU received more than $23.2 million in new gifts and pledge payments compared to $19.6 million the previous year. Donations to athletic programs increased by 25 percent, general scholarship support nearly tripled and unrestricted gifts to the university increased by nearly 45 percent.
Obviously, how the inevitable Colt Effect will bump up UH’s prestige and bottom line is impossible to predict, especially when you’re doing the theorizing before the Sugar Bowl’s kickoff as we are now. However, to get a better idea of the potential windfall ahead we didn’t have to go very far or far back.
Last Year’s Boise State’s immensely entertaining 43 - 42 win over BCS behemoth Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl is burned into the brains of most college football fans. The overtime victory, considered one of the greatest college football games ever, not only had nail-biting drama but a little heart-warming romance, too. It featured a thrilling, game-winning trick play and a sideline marriage proposal by Bronco star running back Ian Johnson to his cheerleader girlfriend. The television gods were happy. Boise State University officials were pretty pleased, too.
“When we got back from the game our president, Bob Kustra, said: ‘Everything is different now.’ And it was,” says Frank Zang, Boise State University’s director of communications. “Within 24 hours of the game, we got hundreds of congratulatory e-mails. A Hollywood producer contacted us, inquiring about movie rights, and Ian Johnson and his fiancé were whisked off to New York and appeared on Good Morning, America.”
Meanwhile, Boise State and its football team became part of pop culture, ranking high in Google and Yahoo Internet searches, popping up in comic strips and even making talk show host David Letterman’s famous Top Ten List.
As a result, the university experienced a spike in interest and donations that was as fast and furious as a blitzing linebacker. According to Zang, online inquiries from prospective students increased 135 percent, with the university’s graduate college receiving 10 times as many application inquiries compared to the previous year. Overall, resulting applications increased by 9.1 percent, which netted a 3.5 percent rise in enrollment. For the first time in its history, BSU’s student body exceeded 19,000.
|IN JUNE WE TRUST: Coach June Jones’ high-powered offense and Colt Brennan’s exciting play have caught the attention of fans across the country. The national exposure will translate into big bucks for the school. Photo by David Croxford|
Moneywise, the school foundation raised approximately $16 million for fiscal year ’07, the second highest total on record. So far, its $175-million campaign, initiated in 2006, has already collected $78.6 million. On campus, the university’s bookstore earned $1.75 million in profits in 2006, selling $752,000 in school insignia merchandise in December, a month before the Fiesta Bowl. The store’s previous best month was December 2004 when it sold $359,000 in merchandise before the team’s appearance in the Liberty Bowl later that month. For comparison, in 1997, the bookstore’s annual sales from school insignia items totaled just $220,000.
Although Zang and his staff had no idea that the media exposure would be so overwhelming, they were aware of the Flutie Effect and had tried to prepare themselves. Zang spoke with officials at George Mason and the University of Utah (the first non-BCS school to receive a BCS bid in 2005) and inquired about the nature of the media beast. He learned that the effect may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially for smaller, or more obscure schools like Boise State and UH, and it might also be fleeting. So, when USA Today featured a front-page story on Boise’s victory, Zang and his staff sent copies of the piece to the school’s alumni network. One of those letters reached a California alumnus, who was so inspired by the story that he wrote a check to the school for $250,000.
“We obviously could never afford the amount of marketing and exposure that the bowl game provided,” says Zang. “The way it all happened just captured the imagination of the country. But we knew that things would settle down eventually, so we figured that we would only have a small window of time to seize the momentum.”
The economic impacts of the Flutie Effect beyond campus are much harder, if not impossible, to track. Linda Alden, director of marketing for the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, says that her organization has no hard data on the economic benefits that the area has received as a result of the Fiesta Bowl win. But she and her colleagues have noticed plenty of non-quantifiable benefits when they deal with out-of-state business people and economic development officials.
“Right off the bat, we noticed a difference. The game caused a lot of excitement and it opened doors and brought some contacts that we didn’t have in the past,” says Alden. “If we wore any Boise State logo wear it was an immediate conversation starter. Any way you slice it, it has been a good thing.”
Zang agrees wholeheartedly and believes that the most lasting benefit of the Flutie Effect may be the goodwill and good feelings that the country still has for the Idaho school and its surrounding area. “Everyone has their favorite team or school that they root for,” says Zang. “After last year’s Fiesta Bowl, maybe we’ve become a lot of people’s second-favorite school.”
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