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UMBC Athletics Sees Business Boost

September 17, 2018
By Holden Wilen, Baltimore Business Journal

Six months after UMBC's historic upset against Virginia in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the school's athletic department remains abuzz.

Ticket sales and sponsorships soared at UMBC ahead of the fall sports season.

The campus in Catonsville, Md., is still riding a wave after the Retrievers knocked off top overall seed Virginia, becoming the first-ever No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed. While it was "business as usual" in many ways for the university leading up to the fall sports season, athletic director Tim Hall said there is no doubt the major March Madness upset has had an impact.

"What I've noticed is there is a little more bounce in everybody's step," Hall said. "Coming off a historic win like that in March, it's the type of notoriety that puts you on the map."

Almost overnight, UMBC went from a relative unknown to a household name. UMBC, under school president Freeman Hrabowski, is renowned in academic circles for its research and success in the areas of technology, science and engineering education. But its athletic program was not highly regarded.

Now, basketball has become a hot ticket. Hall said season ticket sales are up about 20 percent. The excitement is spilling over into the other sports, too. Season ticket sales for men's soccer are up between 12 percent and 15 percent. Women's soccer, led by new coach Vanessa Mann, has seen season ticket sales increase 35 percent. 

Ticket sales are also up for women's volleyball, which plays in the university's brand new, $85 million Event Center. The team is led by new head coach Cristina Robertson, who was previously an assistant at Duke University.

"UMBC is such a relational place and the culture here is really, really strong," Hall said. "Everyone is so courteous and friendly. But now we're winning. It makes people see that we're a key player. Success breeds success."

UMBC has been making use of group tickets and various packaging deals. Hall also said that next year he hopes to introduce a "ticket book" option in which someone can buy a book of general admission tickets for a set price and use them for sports like basketball, lacrosse and volleyball.

"We want to penetrate the market and give potential purchasers a variety of options," Hall said.

Hall took the reins of UMBC's athletic department in 2013. He remembers telling Hrabowski during his job interview that a successful athletics program has a high "value proposition" for the overall university because it would make more people aware of academic accolades.

Hall always had high hopes for the program. It's all just happening quicker than he originally anticipated.

In addition to ticket sales, UMBC is also seeing a boost in sponsorships. Heading into the fall sports season sponsorship sales are up 20 to 25 percent.

UMBC has been able to bring in companies like Chick-fil-A and Rita's Italian Ice as sponsors at the arena. Printing company Sir Speedy and Zeke's Coffee have also come aboard.

Tiffany Sun, the arena's general manager and an employee of OVG Facilities, said talking to potential sponsors has been easier since the basketball team's big upset in March. OVG Facilities, a firm based in Virginia Beach, manages the arena through a contract with UMBC.

"It gave us a lot of brand recognition," Sun said. "We didn't have to explain who UMBC was. They already knew."

For more local sports business coverage, visit the Baltimore Business Journal.

Photo Credit: Matt Stovall/PressBox

Issue 247: September 2018