These Retrievers Are Golden

UMBC’s upset victory in NCAA Tournament boosts marketing efforts at new arena

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: March 20, 2018

The University of Baltimore-Maryland County’s UMBC Event Center opened in February. (Courtesy Cannon Design)

The University of Baltimore-Maryland County’s historic victory in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has sparked renewed interest in naming rights for the school’s new arena, say officials with Team Services LLC, the agency brokering the deal.

Last Friday, UMBC beat Virginia in a first-round game in Charlotte, marking the first time a No. 16 seed had conquered a No. 1 seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. For the Retrievers, members of the America East Conference, the timing could not be better for marketing the UMBC Events Center, their 5,500-capacity arena that opened in February.

After the upset, UMBC jumped overnight from a school with limited visibility outside Greater Baltimore to a national sensation, creating vast exposure for the university. The defeat of No. 1 Virginia had sports fans buzzing across the country, even after UMBC lost its second-round game to Kansas State two days later at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.

For E.J. Narcise, a principal and co-founder of Team Services, the firm working for UMBC to sell naming rights over the past two years, interest has grown among a greater number of potential partners, although he would not specify which firms and brand categories.

Towson University, another NCAA Division I school in the Baltimore area, signed a 10-year, $4.75 million deal with credit union SECU for its 5,200-seat arena, which opened in 2013. Team Services consulted on that agreement.

At UMBC, interest in naming rights has picked up over the past few days, “although at this level, it doesn’t change the financials for people,” Narcise said. “No one’s greedy, but it opens the door for having brand-new conversations. Now, when we call somebody, it’s like, ‘Hey, isn’t that great about the tournament win?’”

Rockville, Md.-based Team Services sits about 40 miles south of Catonsville, Md., where UMBC is situated.

On Friday, the day of UMBC’s improbable victory, Narcise was in Nashville, attending NCAA Tournament games at Bridgestone Arena with a group of friends. At one point, they migrated to an outdoor bar next to the arena to watch the Retrievers dispatch the Cavaliers. They all stood and cheered Narcise’s client as other Team Services personnel excitedly texted back and forth with UMBC officials.

“Now the goal is to capitalize on the visibility for the whole university … across the board on all fronts,” Narcise said. “Admissions is humming along, but they also have to worry about whether they lose their coach [Ryan Odom]. They’re talking about [extending his contract] internally.”

“They’re going through the process of trademarking slogans, but the most important thing is being able to talk about it,” he said. “Every piece of literature they put out should talk about believing in miracles, tell everybody what happened. It’s history. It’s never been done before.”

Those who track media exposure connected to sports events say the “David slays Goliath” storyline has been a boon to UMBC’s overall profile, and that momentum continues.

As of Tuesday, UMBC’s win had generated $33 million in total media value, resulting from impressions tied to the game broadcast, highlight shows, online news sites and social media channels, said Eric Smallwood, president of Apex Marketing Group, a firm that tracks data from sports events. That far outstrips the $4.6 million in media exposure UMBC generated the week before after defeating Vermont for the conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, Smallwood said.

Separately, Apex is consulting with OVG Facilities, the firm running UMBC Events Center, to sell advertising for the arena, which includes space on the videoboard and courtside LED signs. (OVG Facilities is a division of Oak View Group, owner of VenuesNow.)

Smallwood said it’s too early to tell whether UMBC’s historic win will boost Apex’s marketing efforts. The process of selling inventory for next season is just starting, he said.

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: March 20, 2018