- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

The University of Maryland could reap more than $5 million in new revenue from its first national basketball title. But school officials are going to have to work for it.

Big-time windfalls are common to college football, but profiting from hardwood success is a tougher proposition. The NCAA distributes money from its wildly popular basketball tournament through a complex, multiyear system based on conference performance. And at schools such as Maryland, basketball is already a hot ticket, making it more difficult to increase revenue.

Even with those obstacles, however, the champion Terrapins will enter the new Comcast Center this fall bringing in the green. Terps title T-shirts were selling on campus yesterday at a rate of more than 1,100 an hour. Membership in the Terrapin Club, which funds athletic scholarships, continues to balloon. And efforts to secure sponsorships and sell the few remaining tickets at the $101 million Comcast Center received the biggest boost.

"There are clearly some significant, tangible benefits that will be reaped, but more importantly, this is simply immense in building the long-term brand of Maryland," said David Carter, a Los Angeles sports industry executive and university lecturer. "Applications for admission will go up. New sponsors will come on board, and existing sponsors get needed validation of their spending. The effects of this will be widely spread and widely felt."

Although $5 million representing potential new sponsorship and media revenue and merchandise royalties no longer means much in the high-dollar world of pro sports, it is significant to a big-time college like Maryland, even over a period of several years. Maryland's annual athletic budget is about $32 million. Corporate sponsorship, not including Comcast's $20 million naming-rights deal for the new arena, amounts to about $2 million a year. And total donations to the popular Terrapin Club reached $4.6 million last year.

Maryland officials yesterday downplayed the immediate financial boom from the tournament title. In the short term, incremental revenue that can be connected directly to the basketball team and that will reach the athletic department likely will amount to less than $500,000. But athletic director Debbie Yow said the title will help secure an eighth consecutive fiscal year in the black for a program that suffered many years of deep losses.

"We'll be profitable again, and remembering where we were [with a $7 million deficit in 1994], it's really hard to understate that," Yow said.

The men's basketball title extends a fantastic run of recent success for Maryland athletics that includes an Orange Bowl appearance in January for the football team, seven straight women's lacrosse national titles and a Final Four appearance by the men's basketball team last year.

The new championship, of course, trumps all of that. But it also highlights the challenge Maryland faces in capitalizing on the new success. Since their Final Four appearance last year, Terrapin Club memberships have already surged 27 percent, available tickets at the Comcast Center are close to selling out, and a new radio contract for the Terra-pins is near completion.

"The [basketball] program is close to maxing out [economically] or had already seen quite a bit of growth in several areas," Yow said. "But there will definitely be opportunities for incremental revenue for us over time, and more importantly, this is an opportunity for the entire university to grow."

At the school's bookstore yesterday, throngs of fans lined up all day, and managers expected to sell more than 12,000 shirts before they closed, translating to about $240,000 in gross revenue. Stores across the region such as Modell's reported similarly heavy traffic.

"In a word, this has been awesome, without question the best we have ever seen it in here," said Stan Lohman, university bookstore manager. "It will be crazy like this for about 10 days, and then we will able to still move championship stuff for at least six months."

Maryland was ranked No. 34 among Division I schools for licensed merchandise sales in the latter half of 2001. With the championship, the Terps should leap into the top 20.

"Without question, the biggest jumps in sales we see year-to-year are the football champion and the basketball champion," said John Christie, director of university services for the Collegiate Licensing Company, a national umbrella group that handles college merchandise sales.

The largest chunk of money headed toward Maryland will be its share of the NCAA basketball fund, which is derived from tournament ticket sales and TV rights fees. The NCAA will distribute $70 million later this month from the fund to Division I schools, and Maryland's share will amount to about $830,000.

The shares of that basketball fund are awarded to conferences based on their performance in the tournament over a rolling six-tournament period. The Atlantic Coast Conference's payment last year of $7.1 million, for example, reflected its collective performance for the years 1995 to 2000. Checks set to be mailed out later this month will reflect the 1996-2001 tournaments.

Each conference typically shares its annual payments evenly among its member schools. Both the NCAA and conference systems are designed to keep schools from reaping six- and seven-figure sums strictly on the basis of one free throw or blown call.


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