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Butler victory would mean big payday for school

April 5, 2010

Sales of Butler University Final Four merchandise is beating school officials' estimates, and sports business experts predict if the Bulldogs can beat Duke University tonight for the NCAA national basketball championship, sales will skyrocket fivefold.

Officials for Strategic Marketing Affiliates, Butler’s licensing agency, said Monday morning that already more than $2 million worth of the school’s Final Four merchandise has been sold.

The hottest selling items by far are Butler T-shirts and caps, they said. At Lucas Oil Stadium and through vendors downtown, Butler-ware is outselling the other three schools’ in this year’s Final Four by a large margin, said Butler’s licensing officials.

Vendors at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday ran out of many Butler items, and the bookstore on the school’s campus has been registering strong five-figure sales daily for the past eight days. (See video below.)

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“The Finish Line stores here in town alone are selling thousands of Butler shirts a day,” said John Mybeck, Strategic Marketing Affiliates chief operating officer. “We’re doing everything we can to keep the shelves stocked.”

There’s evidence, Mybeck said, that the footprint of Butler sales is spreading well beyond Indiana. In fact, he said, sales of items were so strong online that several brick-and-mortar retailers asked that some items not be offered through the Web right away.

“When we put items online, they often sold out before we could get them to the stores,” Mybeck said. “Those [online] sales were going nationwide.”

In recent months, Butler began placing school-related items in regional locations of Kohl’s, Lids, Kroger, Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart and other mass retailers. Now, Mybeck said, those companies are moving Butler goods to more far-flung stores.

“In some respects, the sales numbers don’t surprise me because of the story behind this school,” Mybeck said. “But a year ago, no one would have ever predicted anything like this.”

Already thousands of Butler national championship T-shirts and caps have been produced in case Butler wins tonight.

“If Butler is fortunate enough to win tonight, we’ll have products for sale immediately at Lucas Oil Stadium, and we’ll have them in all area retailers Tuesday,” Mybeck said. “By Wednesday or Thursday, we should have a full complement of national championship items in retailers.”

Strategic Marketing Affiliates and Butler officials have been working since last week with members of the Indianapolis Police Department and U.S. Customs agents to stop the sale of counterfeit products in central Indiana.

“We’ve taken quite a bit of unlicensed, illegal product off the street, and we’re still working at it,” Mybeck said. “We know that some of it will still get on the market, but we’re doing everything we can to stop it.”

Richard Sheehan, a University of Notre Dame economist and author of “Keeping Score: The Economics of Big-Time Sports," this morning was still trying to get a handle on what a victory tonight would mean for Butler.

“We simply don’t have anything to compare what Butler is doing right now,” Sheehan said. “So it’s difficult to get a feel for what is next.”

Several sports marketers have predicted that if Butler wins tonight, the school will sell $10 million worth of national championship related goods. If sales reach those heights, Butler could get a low seven-figure payday from its cut of the sales.

“Short-term, there’s no doubt, if Butler can win tonight, they’re going to be a big winner in terms of sales and marketing,” Sheehan said. “But the long-term benefit is another story. You have to question if a school as small as Butler truly has the people and infrastructure in place to take full advantage of this.”

Butler President Bobby Fong is confident that interest in the school will increase, win or lose tonight. Dramatically increased traffic to the school’s Web site and admissions pages is proof of that, he said. He thinks the result could be increased admissions applications and a stronger student body.

“The University of Miami, another small, private school, tried the same thing with their football program,” Sheehan said. “And while the school is much better known today than it was 25 years ago, they weren’t successful in improving their academic stature. Still, it’s hard to argue right now that Butler’s use of its basketball program as a sales and marketing tool wasn’t a good move.”
 

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