Students Say Loyola Should Shift Marketing Focus Away From Men’s Basketball

Hanako Maki | The PhoenixThe Loyola men's basketball team celebrates its win in the 2018 Elite Eight.

With the Loyola men’s basketball team’s 2018 Final Four run fading more into the past, some students think Loyola’s marketing should be focused on more currently successful sports.

This year, Loyola’s men’s and women’s soccer teams won their respective MVC tournaments to make NCAA appearances. Although they both lost in the first round, this was the first time both teams made it to the tournament since 2006.

Communications major Steven Gutierrez said he thinks it makes sense that Loyola would capitalize on the Final Four run considering how much reach it had. However, he said Loyola should be doing more work to publicize other sports, such as soccer, that are currently performing better.

“I honestly had no idea,” Gutierrez, 20, said of the soccer teams’ 2019 NCAA appearances. “I think if a team is seeing success currently and people don’t know about it, they should put it out there [more].”

Gutierrez said he’s seen men’s basketball information publicized through posters around campus and on Loyola’s website. He said he’d like to see more notices on campus for other sports along with possibly mentioning them in an online newsletter. 

However, Director of Marketing and Ticket Operations Brian Day said the athletics department focuses on Loyola’s sports equally.

“I think basketball definitely got the most national and local attention a couple years ago,” Day said. “[But] we’re looking for success in all of our sports [and] we’re looking for increased attendance in all of our sports.”

Day said the athletics department doesn’t consider Loyola to be a “basketball school” and hasn’t used that term to describe their athletics program. He said although a lot of the focus is on basketball, the program prides itself on being “broad-based.” 

“I think if a team is seeing success currently and people don’t know about it, they should put it out there [more].”

Steven Gutierrez, Loyola student

The men’s basketball team went 32-6 in 2018, eventually making it to the Final Four in San Antonio. In 2019, the team lost in its first game of both the MVC Tournament and the National Invitational Tournament after winning the MVC regular season championship. So far this season, the Ramblers have a 5-4 record.

The 2018 Final Four run brought $8.5 million to the MVC which will be paid out over six years, meaning about $140,000 per school per year, according to Bloomberg. Loyola’s publicity in the run was worth about $300 million, according to Borshoff, an advertising and public relations firm.

Journalism major Ceara Hunsaker said she doesn’t really mind men’s basketball being a more well-known sport at Loyola considering they perform well and brought lots of exposure to Loyola. She said still thinks the athletic department should promote other sports more, especially women’s teams.

“I don’t want to say all should get as much exposure as basketball,” Hunsaker, 20, said. “But I think it would be good to put a little more effort into promoting them.”

Athletics Director Steve Watson said even though the men’s volleyball team won back-to-back national championships in the 2014-15 seasons, the Final Four run brought the school unprecedented exposure compared to any other sport.

Borshoff Loyola’s magical Final Four run was worth over $300 million, according to Borshoff.

“We didn’t win a national championship … [but] the university, the city of Chicago, the basketball program, the athletics department, the amount of exposure that we got from that run to the Final Four was significantly more,” Watson said. “And the revenue that’s realized as a result … is not even in the same ballpark.”

Day said student attendance increased across all sports last year and maintained those levels through this year’s fall sports. He said the Final Four most likely contributed to student interest in athletics, with men’s basketball bringing in the most fans and most ticket revenue.

However, men’s basketball attendance dropped from an average of 516 to 510 students per game between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, according to assistant athletic director of communications Bill Behrns. So far this year, the average is up to 639.

Student attendance increased overall from 14,570 to 18,137 between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, according to Behrns. The athletic department declined to give official numbers on men’s basketball and overall revenue.

Neil Beran | The Phoenix The Loyola men’s soccer team celebrates after winning the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament.

This year, the athletics department also implemented a new ticketing policy at men’s basketball games, requiring students to reserve tickets online 24 hours beforehand instead of just arriving at game time. All other spectator sports only require students to show up with their student ID at game time. There is also an audio stream for men’s basketball games, the only Loyola team to have one.

Nursing major Tyler Huguez said he personally hasn’t heard anything about Loyola’s soccer teams or women’s volleyball even though each team performed well this fall, but he consistently hears about men’s basketball. He said he understands the impact the Final Four had, but other teams should get the spotlight, as well.

“I think other sports should be pushed,” Huguez, 20, said. “We have other teams that consistently do really well … and they need to advocate for [those] as well.”

Senior Associate Athletics Director Tom Sorboro said while the unexpected Final Four run “shined a spotlight” on the men’s basketball program, the athletics department dedicates resources — such as marketing staff and in-game promotions — to all sports. Day and Kayli Miller split the responsibility of marketing Loyola’s sports. 

“It’s either [Day] or another full-time … marketing person dedicated to each of our sports,” Sorboro said. “From a resource standpoint and a manpower and time standpoint … it’s balanced across the board.”

“From a resource standpoint and a manpower and time standpoint … it’s balanced across the board.”

Tom Sorboro, Loyola senior athletics director

Day said the athletics department might consider opening up a survey for students to give their opinions on what they want from the department. He said the students in The Pack, Loyola’s official student section, also provide feedback and ideas for theme nights and other promotions to help drive up attendance for all sports.

The athletic department has partnered with marketing classes at Loyola in the past but haven’t done a broader survey, Day said.

Sorboro said if students have any comments or suggestions on what the department or its marketing team could do, they are also welcome to send their ideas by email.

“It’s important to us that they have a voice and that we understand things that may really resonate with them,” Sorboro said.

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