Butler University’s stature as one of Indianapolis’ hidden gems is beginning to crack—and fast—thanks
to the impressive run its men’s basketball team has mounted.
The Butler Bulldogs took out the No. 1-seeded Syracuse Orangemen Thursday evening in Salt Lake City, securing a spot among the Elite Eight, the furthest the team has ever advanced in the NCAA tournament.
A win Saturday against the Kansas State Wildcats would catapult Butler into the Final Four, and would bring the Bulldogs back to the comforts of Indianapolis, which is hosting the event at Lucas Oil Stadium April 3-5.
In the meantime, the private university, with an enrollment of just 4,500 students, is enjoying the fruits of the national exposure a championship-caliber basketball team can bring.
The most immediate and obvious bump is in sales of merchandise, and experts say Butler likely will experience a jump in student applications, alumni contributions and season ticket sales as well.
The university bookstore stayed open until 10 p.m. Thursday evening, four hours later than usual, to accommodate students and the general public eager to purchase Butler attire.
Clothing sales have soared 500 percent this week, and traffic to the store is up tenfold, said Richard Goodpaster, regional manager for Oak Brook, Ill.-based Follet Higher Education Group, which operates the bookstore.
“We’re selling nearly everything we have,” he said. “Anything with Butler on it is doing very well.”
Merchandise available on the university’s Web site is being shipped as far away as Canada, Goodpaster said.
Butler apparel now can be found off campus, in such stores as Kohl’s, Meijer and Walgreen’s, after the university switched licensing companies nearly two years ago and doubled its number of vendors.
Royalty revenue since has almost tripled, said Lindsay Martin, Butler’s manager of sports marketing and promotions.
“Prior to that, our [licensing] program was fairly stagnant,” Martin told IBJ early this month.
It’s a good bet the word “stagnant” won’t be in the Butler vernacular for years to come.
David Morton, a Butler grad who operates locally based Sunrise Sports Group, a sports marketing firm, said the university should expect a jump in alumni donations.
Although half of the university’s grads reside in central Indiana, Morton said, an alumni chapter didn’t even exist in Indianapolis until three or four years ago.
“There’s probably nothing like athletics that brings together that sense of pride,” Morton said. “I think that for anybody that was watching, especially alumni, what they achieved [Thursday] night is monumental.”
Butler’s men’s basketball team already saw a big bounce in attendance this year—one of its most successful on the court in recent history. That success includes 31 wins so far and the Horizon League regular season and tournament titles.
Per-game attendance at Hinkle Fieldhouse soared from 5,516 during the 2008-09 season to 6,953 this season. The lower bowl of Hinkle Fieldhouse is nearly sold out in season tickets, Morton said.
Additional media attention also benefits the school. Coach Brad Stevens has been featured on several national radio shows, and The New York Times wrote about the basketball program and the storied fieldhouse earlier this month.
But even if Butler loses its next game, nothing can diminish what the team has achieved.
“Anything short of the Final Four is not going to be a disappointment,” Morton said. “We as an alumni don’t expect that.”