Earlier this year the Loyola Ramblers busted a few brackets when the team made its second Final Four appearance in school history. While Sister Jean became an overnight sensation, the Loyola athletics department saw success of its own through digital and social media impressions and athletics department donations.
The team’s success in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament left its relatively small athletics department staff–its athletics communications staff is comprised of only two people–working around the clock to optimize the experience.
“From March 1 until well into April, we were literally working around the clock,” Loyola’s assistant athletic director of athletic communications, William Behrns, said. Behrns provided an anecdote related to Sister Jean to highlight the type of additional tasks the small athletics department had to manage. “As Sister Jean’s popularity increased, we needed to bring in a security team to provide additional support to her, in addition to the medical staff she already had traveling, at each tournament site. The outstanding teamwork that was on display throughout our athletics department staff was a major factor in our ability to handle the madness of March so well.”
Casual fans may perceive the Ramblers’ March Madness success as an overnight journey, but the team and Loyola athletics department know the level of planning that went into making the season successful both on and off of the court.
“Our goal from the beginning of the season was to provide compelling content on our social media platforms and website, which included a lot of behind-the-scenes coverage,” Behrns noted. “When people saw the content we were providing, we saw a dramatic increase in engagement on those platforms.”
Dramatic, indeed. Between March 1 and April, 2018, social media engagement increased 1,676-percent, website traffic from new visitors jumped 91-percent and social media followers grew by 34-percent, year-over-year.
“During the NCAA tournament alone, Loyola generated 61,000 media mentions, which drove 64 billion media impressions for a total value of $1.64 billion,” Behrns explained.
The athletics department didn’t just see growth digitally, but in athletics department donations. During the same time period, athletics department donations jumped 660-percent, year-over-year. The team’s success fueled the excitement of former Loyola students to give back to their alma mater.
“The bulk of new athletic donations came from university alumni and the donations will be utilized in a variety of ways,” Behrns said. “An increase in donations is beneficial to the university not only because of the financial component it brings, but also because of the engagement.”
The increase in donations will likely help generate future success for the Ramblers’ men’s basketball team, as according to Behrns, “All of the benefits we have seen have been a direct result of the success of our men’s basketball program, so we will continue to invest in that program specifically, as well as our other teams, as opposed to channeling our money into a branding or advertising campaign.”
How long does Loyola expect to feel the impact of its March Madness success?
“The athletics department will hopefully feel the impacts of the Final Four appearance for quite sometime, but there will also be impacts felt across the university for years to come,” Behrns projected. “When Butler, VCU and George Mason, schools similar in scope to Loyola, reached the Final Four, they all saw significant increases in admissions applications, donations, merchandise sales and more. However, we cannot sit back and think that just because we reached the Final Four this season, we can let up. It is our goal to capitalize on our recent success to allow Loyola to remain on the national stage.”