Loyola-Chicago Ramblers cash in on March Madness success

The Ramblers from Loyola-Chicago last won the NCAA basketball championship in 1963 - and fans are already spending to celebrate. 

Since the school made the "Sweet 16" on March 22, sales of Loyola-Chicago merchandise at the campus bookstore skyrocketed 300 percent, according to Follett Corp., which manages the store. Follet has opened a pop-up store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago to keep up with the demand from fans. Online sales have also been strong.

Fanatics, the world's largest seller of licensed sports merchandise, has sold more Loyola-Chicago merchandise over the past week than that of the other Final Four competitors: Kansas, Michigan and Villanova.

Merchandise featuring the likeness of Sister Jean Schmidt, the team's 98-year-old chaplain, is especially popular. According to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame, 5,000 Sister Jean bobbleheads sold in 48 hours, a record. 

Sister Jean isn't taking a fee. Proceeds from the sales of Sister Jean merchandise will support her order, The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Loyola Athletic Fund.  

"Loyola-Chicago is definitely among the top Cinderella sellers in history for us," said Fanatics in an email. "More Ramblers gear has sold in the past three days than the rest of the season combined."

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A T-shirt bearing the face of Sister Jean Schmidt, team chaplain for the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers.

 

Fanatics

Loyola-Chicago's basketball success comes as the school seeks to raise $80 million by 2020 to support the financial needs of students from economically disadvantaged families. The school also is scrambling to meet demand for on-campus housing as enrollment has grown significantly in recent years. The classes of 2020 and 2021 are the largest ever in school history, according to the school paper, The Loyola Phoenix.

Enrollment should see a spike, according to sports economist Victor Matheson of the College of the Holy Cross said Loyola-Chicago, though it will be fleeting. "This is definitely something that's likely to be a flash-in-the-pan unless they can parlay this trip into an invitation to a larger conference with bigger conference-wide TV contracts and lots of revenue sharing," said Matheson. He added that such an outcome is unlikely.

One issue will be hanging on to Ramblers coach Porter Moser. "Moser built this team from grassroots recruiting the basketball way, and they play the game (especially defense) the way it's supposed to be played to be successful in a one-and-done tournament," said John Vrooman, a sports economist at Vanderbilt University, by email.

He believes Moser can expect a $1 million salary.

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These Loyola Chicago Ramblers "Sister Jean" socks retail for $17.99.

Fanatics

The NCAA counts on money it earns from the 14-year, $10.8 billion broadcast rights deal it signed with CBS (CBS), parent of CBSNews.com, and Time Warner (TWX) in 2005 to finance its activities. Money for Final Four participants is funneled through the teams' athletic conferences, which split the funds with all of their members. 

Loyola, a No. 11 seed, will find out if it can stretch its Cinderella run all the way to the championship game when it takes on Michigan, a No. 3 seed, in the first semifinal match on Saturday evening in San Antonio. The other semifinal game pits two No. 1 seeds, Villanova vs. Kansas. 

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.