Five college kids running around on a court trying to shoot a ball through a hoop may seem like a silly way to make money. But in fact, ISU’s basketball teams have made a huge economic impact on Iowa State and the community of Ames.
The economic impact is hard to measure, community officials say. The men’s and women’s basketball teams affect ticket sales, retail sales, restaurant traffic, hotel bookings, the popularity of the university and charisma on campus. But dollar figures are hard to come by.
During women’s head basketball coach Bill Fennelly’s 20 years at Iowa State, ticket sales for women’s games have increased from an average of 733 per game the year before Fennelly arrived to an average of 9,916 per game in 2013-2014. That puts Iowa State’s average attendance at second in the nation, behind only the University of Tennessee.
During men’s head basketball coach Fred Hoiberg’s first four years, average attendance for men’s games rose from 13,317 in 2008, the year before Hoiberg arrived, to 14,192 in 2013-2014.
“We knew at some point we were going to hit the wall and not be able to have any more season ticket sales or single game tickets,” said Nathan Terry, who oversees marketing for the men’s team. “The last thing you want to do when there is demand for your product is turn people away.”
Those ticket sales affect many areas of the economy of Ames and Iowa State.
Restaurants see increased traffic with successful basketball teams.
Jeremiah Hamilton, general manager at Applebee’s the last two years, said broadcasting the games over the restaurant’s audio and TV draws in a large crowd. He schedules extra staff to account for the full wait and people lining up out the door.
“I would say anybody that ties in the Cyclone name probably has some success because of that,” Hamilton said. “Everybody knows the Cyclones, everybody knows Cy.”
Chris Diebel, spokesman for Gateway Hotel in Ames, said the hotel sees a 20 to 30 percent increase in sales during home games for Cyclone athletic events.
“Clearly the university is a major economic driver for the city of Ames, and the hotel takes its proximity to the university very seriously,” Diebel said.
After the men’s team won the Big 12 Tournament last year, local retailers had a hard time supplying the number of “Big 12 Champion” products that were demanded. With both the men’s and women’s teams achieving success, Cyclone apparel and gift sales skyrocketed.
“When you have two teams like that that are doing extremely well, I think it doubles the excitement,” said Amy Delashmutt, marketing manager at the Iowa State University Bookstore.
Those successful teams also have had corporate sponsors calling Iowa State instead of the other way around.
Businesses create sponsorships through Learfield Sports and Cyclone Sports Properties, who own the rights to all sponsorships with Iowa State Athletics. In recent seasons, more businesses have wanted to be a part of game day than could be included.
“We know that the game is going to start and there are going to be two 20-minute halves, then the game is over,” Terry said. “We only have a certain amount of time available for our corporate partners.”
Sponsorships displayed at the game generate awareness for those businesses, but also contribute to the atmosphere in Hilton by animating the crowd through activities on the court or on the scoreboard, which is what keeps many fans coming back to the arena.
Many of the basketball sponsorships and partnerships make an economic impact outside of business recognition and energizing the fans. Some funds go directly back to the community and the university.
Applebee’s created the “Hoiburger” to raise money for the United Way of Story County. Hamilton reported that about $15,000 was raised with this sponsorship.
Likewise, Delashmutt said that purchases at the University Bookstore, including basketball merchandise, go directly back to Iowa State.
The basketball programs have generated an economic impact even in years that weren’t as successful as the last few seasons, largely in part to the loyalty of Cyclone fans and the make-up of the Ames community.
“We’re not in a major city with hundreds of thousands of people, so it is vital that the community buys in,” Terry said.
According to Ticketmaster, about 75 percent of women’s and 50 percent of men’s season ticket holders live less than 25 miles from Hilton Coliseum.
“They don’t stop buying because they’re still excited to be a Cyclone fan,” Delashmutt said.
However, sales do show a correlation to the success of the teams.
“Everyone tends to be a little bit happier with a winning team,” Hamilton said about the fans that go to Applebee’s. “You get a lot of your bandwagon fans or your fair-weather fans that all of a sudden start watching it because they are doing well or getting to the NCAA tournament.”
Retailers saw major demand for apparel when the men’s team made it to the Sweet Sixteen last season. Delashmutt said products were selling quicker than the bookstore could supply it.
Beyond the revenue created, the success of the teams puts Iowa State University on the map.
Delashmutt said when she and her husband visited Las Vegas shortly after the men’s team won the Big 12 Championship last year, people saw they were wearing Cyclone gear and acknowledged that they were from Iowa State by talking to them about the basketball teams.
The wide recognition of Iowa State created by the basketball teams isn’t the only way people across the nation have heard of the university, but it certainly hasn’t hurt.
“I was shocked how I could walk through Las Vegas, and just my shirt with the Iowa State logo on it, people knew what that was,” Delashmutt said. “They knew that we were Cyclones, and that means something for Iowa State University.”