Athletic department sees massive growth after National Championship games

GRANT ANSCHUETZ | STAFF REPORTER | ganschue@butler.edu

Just inside the walls of Hinkle Fieldhouse, one is greeted with a mural of the Butler Way. One line of the famous philosophy places emphasis on improving every day.

Over the past couple of years, Butler’s athletic department has continued to improve and grow in multiple ways. A large part of that growth can be attributed to those two Final Four runs the Butler men’s basketball team made in 2010 and 2011.

“In a nutshell, we were exposed,” Associate Athletic Director of Development Ken LaRose said. “We got exposure and with exposure came a lot of great things.”

Butler is required to submit data about increases in revenue in a survey done by the Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education. The Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act requires this annual report to be produced.

According to the report, the grand total revenue for Butler sports in 2009 was more than $12 million and in the most recent year the report was done, 2014, it was more than $18 million.

One of the things LaRose mentioned was the recent renovation of Hinkle Fieldhouse. He said the athletic department discussed plans to renovate about a year before the first run in 2010. Those plans were accelerated due to the two Final Four runs.

Another notable area of growth was Butler’s move to the Big East Conference. Associate Athletic Director of External Operations Mike Freeman said the Final Fours certainly impacted the move to a better-known conference. However, Freeman said he felt the Big East would still have had interest in Butler even if they hadn’t made it to the Final Four.

“We fit the other qualities that they were looking for,” Freeman said. “A high-level private institution in a major metropolitan area that has a commitment to basketball.”

The transition to the Big East has brought even more exposure to the university because Butler basketball now has a national television component through Fox.

That television exposure led to an increase in sponsorships and advertisements throughout Butler athletics. Freeman said before the Final Fours, Butler basketball would play around 10 games on national television a year, but now they are constantly in the spotlight.

This exposure translates to Hinkle Fieldhouse itself. According to numbers provided by the athletic department, the average regular season attendance was just under 6,000 during the 2008-09 season. During the 2015-16 season, it grew to more than 8,000.

That number puts Butler in the top 60 for national average attendance, which advertisers want to take advantage of.

Butler paired with multiple sponsors in order to enhance the gameday experience at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Anyone who has been to a game this past year saw promotions and giveaways during timeout breaks, such as the Bright House Networks move of the game, Hot Box Pizza free throw shooting contests and the Harry and Izzy’s smile cam.

The Penn Station half court shot also provided multiple cases of excitement throughout the year. Freeman said there has been an increasing effort to work with the Dawg Pound each year as well to create a great experience for fans.

Butler formed another important partnership with Learfield Sports. According to the Learfield website, they are the official multimedia rights owner for Butler athletics. Learfield represents 120 other colleges across the country.

Before this partnership, the athletic department internally handled all of Butler’s multimedia work. They looked at partnering with an outside company like Learfield after each of the Final Four runs, but they felt as if the market was not there for them yet.

“I think the things that were holding us back at that point were the building, TV situation and probably the league that we were in,” Freeman said.

However, after Hinkle was renovated and the move to the Big East brought a national television aspect, the move to Learfield made more sense, he said.

Another area affected was the amount of donations the athletic department received.

Fundraising through the Bulldog Club increased since 2010-11. Freeman said there has been solid growth in donations each year. More people have been willing to donate, and their contributions have been larger.

Certainly the men’s basketball team was exposed the most throughout the process of the Final Fours, but the other sports Butler offers have also benefited from those tournaments.

“A high tide raises all ships,” said LaRose. “And we believe as basketball around here remains successful, all the other sports reap the benefit.”

One benefit is attractiveness in recruiting athletes. LaRose said there is more name recognition now when reaching out to potential student-athletes because of the Final Fours, and Freeman said that there has been more to sell or pitch to recruits as the athletic department has grown.

According to the equity in athletics and data analysis report, the amounts of money spent in 2009 on men’s and women’s recruiting expenses were around $73,000 and $52,000 respectively.

In 2014, those numbers more than doubled to about $166,000 and $127,000, according the equity report.

There is one last area of growth that LaRose mentioned that money simply couldn’t buy. That area is the constant and continuous mentioning of Butler throughout the country. The analogy of Butler being an underdog is often brought up in conversations about sports.

“Those two Final Four runs and specifically that last shot by Gordon Hayward gets mentioned every day around the country,” LaRose said. “And that’s the kind of publicity you can’t buy.”

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