Wichita State’s Final Four run pays off in exposure for university

10/30/2013 9:32 AM

10/30/2013 9:32 AM

Wichita State may be in the early stages of the “Flutie Effect.”

Its basketball run to the NCAA Final Four last month touched off a high degree of interest in all things Shocker, including becoming one. Admissions inquiries and hits on the university’s website skyrocketed during the NCAA Tournament.

The “Flutie Effect” was named for Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie after he threw a last-second Hail Mary pass that beat the University of Miami in 1984 in a play so famous that it became a TV commercial for UPS decades later.

Admissions to Boston College jumped about 30 percent in the two years after Flutie’s fling.

Since then, the term has been used whenever a college sports team reaches the summit of its possibilities, or at least comes close enough to earn national acclaim.

The full impact of the “Flutie Effect” doesn’t kick in right away, at least not in basketball. Most high school seniors have committed to colleges by the time March Madness culminates in the Final Four.

At WSU, Bobby Gandu, director of admissions, predicted that the Shockers’ Final Four appearance will have minimal impact on enrollment this fall. But check back in 2014 when today’s high school juniors make their picks.

“They’re really starting to open their eyes to Wichita State and what we might have to offer because of all that exposure we got,” Gandu said.

Symptoms of the “Flutie Effect” are being noticed at WSU. During the week before the NCAA Tournament and the first two weeks of the tournament, admissions inquiries rose 58 percent compared with the same three-week period last year, Gandu said. That was an increase of 485 inquiries.

Since Selection Sunday on March 17, visits to the WSU admissions website have risen 81 percent, page views are up 51 percent and views from mobile devices are up 113 percent, he said.

Searching for Wu

George Mason University may offer an example for Wichita State. Its unexpected run to the Final Four in 2006 didn’t affect admissions the next fall. But a year later freshmen applications rose 22 percent, according to a study by the school’s Center for Sport Management. The percentage of out-of-state freshmen rose from 17 percent to 25 percent, and admissions inquiries rose 350 percent. The university also reported increases in preliminary inquiries from high school students and requests for campus tours.

A 2008 study of the “Flutie Effect” determined that it was real, and that schools that win national football and basketball championships get a 7 percent to 8 percent boost in attendance the following year. Teams that reach the Sweet 16 see an average 3 percent increase. Just making it into the tournament results in a 1 percent rise.

WSU saw an increase of 135 percent in visits to the undergraduate admissions page on the university’s website during a 20-day period while the Shockers were playing in the NCAA Tournament, compared with the 20 days that preceded the tournament, said Bryan Masters, WSU’s director of web services. Visits to pages offering information on academic majors and programs available at WSU rose 130 percent. Visits to the WSU Alumni Association’s page on the school’s website climbed 735 percent.

During the same time, WSU saw a 120 percent increase in traffic from Google, a 140 percent increase in traffic from Facebook, and a 600 percent increase in traffic from Twitter, Masters said. The number of unique visitors to its website rose by 160 percent, the number of new visitors rose by 260 percent, and the number of out-of-state visitors went up more than 390 percent.

“Those numbers have settled down,” Masters said, “but they haven’t settled back down to where they were before the tournament. We have a new normal.”

A couple of oddities:

Inquiries about WuShock, the school’s mascot that seems to eternally stump the rest of the country, rose more than 3,000 percent during the tournament.

And the number of Google searches for “Witchita State” rose by 298 percent.

The Final Four run was noticed overseas. Vince Altum, associate director for international marketing, recruitment and admissions at WSU, said the head of the university’s office in China received congratulations for the basketball team’s success from some of the students she met at an event in Korea. The university also received e-mails of congratulations from foreign students and from agents who advise foreign students on American universities.

Wichita State has done well recruiting foreign students, particularly at the graduate level, but it is hard to determine how much is due to basketball because the university launched an initiative promoting WSU to agents in December.

Still, Altum said, “It doesn’t hurt to have a great basketball team at the same time.”

Capitalizing on success

The tournament brought a lot of positive exposure to the university, which has resulted in a lingering sense of pride on campus as well as many opportunities to leverage that success in ad campaigns and other branding efforts, said Wade Robinson, vice president for campus life and university relations.

But he also pointed out that the media universe has changed significantly, and continues to change, since the days of Doug Flutie. Huge exposure can evaporate more quickly.

“We know from the last trip to the Sweet 16 (in 2006) there is a long-term residual effect,” Robinson said. “What’s different now is, changes are so rapid there’s always something that takes the place of the last Great Event.”

Flutie’s miracle pass didn’t have to contend with a daily onslaught of YouTube videos that go viral in seconds.

“It’s just a different mentality people have as to what they retain,” he said. “I think it’ll be something for us to watch and try to understand.”

Gandu said WSU has launched several special initiatives to capitalize on the tournament success. They include taking out a full-page color ad in the Scott County Record newspaper thanking Scott City, the hometown of Shocker guard Ron Baker, for its support. And students admitted for the coming fall who signed up for orientation by a specific deadline received Final Four T-shirts, an incentive that tripled orientation registration counts.

A couple of Twitter campaigns have helped spread the Shocker name. One asked current and incoming students to tweet the reasons why they chose WSU. Those who came up with the top four “best” reasons earned $250 scholarships. The other effort solicited businesses to tweet photos of employees in Shocker attire, with the four winners allowed to award a $250 scholarship to a student of their choice.

“If basketball and athletics are the window to the university,” Gandu said, “our window just got a lot bigger and we have a lot more people looking into it now, and we’re thrilled with that opportunity.”

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