Florida Gulf Coast Still Benefitting from Sweet 16 Run

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Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Dunk City's citizens live in Fort Myers, Fla.

They live in New York.

They even live in China.

Florida Gulf Coast, otherwise known as Dunk City, became one of the darlings of the sports world after advancing from the obscurity of an unknown campus on the southern Gulf coast of Florida to the Sweet 16 of last year's NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Almost a year later, the impact of that success is still being felt everywhere from admissions to ticket sales to the universal recognition of that almost perfect nickname: Dunk City.

It also spread around the world. Kavanagh said a faculty member told him that they were in China last summer and a citizen saw the school's initials on his shirt. Their response: "Dunk City."

"It's been transformational," Athletic Director Ken Kavanagh said.

The changes began after the Eagles became the first 15th seed in NCAA tournament history to advance to the Sweet 16. Somewhere during the second-round win against Georgetown, Kavanagh said someone tweeted the phrase Dunk City. It caught on and became the team's nickname, one the school is working to trademark and actively promotes with a twitter hashtag (#dunkcity), signage in Alico Arena and running counter of dunks: the team is up to 54 through Thursday's game at Mercer. Their game notes even include a QR code that you can scan with your phone to watch all of last year's 148 dunks.

And they don't appear to be a one-and-done phenomenon.

Despite a new coach in Joe Dooley, who replaced Andy Enfield after he left for USC, Florida Gulf Coast (13-9, 7-2) is in second place in the Atlantic Sun Conference after splitting this week's games in Georgia with a loss at Mercer and a win at Kennesaw State.

But the Dunk City legacy is about more than the catchiness of the title. It is about how the nickname and the tournament experience are positively impacting the coffers of the university and the conference.

"There's no doubt that capturing the national spotlight at a times when fans are focused on basketball is a marketing benefit that you cannot create any other way," Atlantic Sun commissioner Ted Gumbart said. "It's a magic moment."

Florida Gulf Coast merchandise sales increased 415 percent during the first half of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012. Kavanagh said the Dick's Sporting Goods store across from campus, which used to never carry Florida Gulf Coast merchandise --- he knows because he would go in there and ask --- remains stocked with Dunk City items.

Season-ticket sales have increased 154 percent over last year, to 1,400 this year. Revenues from ticket sales through the first seven home games surpassed $62,000 compared with $27,595 during the same span of games last season. The school had to turn students away at one game.

The Eagles' arena seats slightly more than 4,600, and they have already had six crowds of at least 4,000 this season, compared with one in its previous history. Kavanagh said the school needs to increase parking to handle the demand. Individual season-ticket sales have increased by more than 150 percent from 550 last year to 1,400 this year.

Enrollment applications have increased 35 percent compared to last year, which school president Wilson Bradshaw said can be attributed to the exposure the school received. After having an enrollment of 10,000 in 2009, the school expects to reach 15,000 this fall and the larger application pool will allow the school to be more selective in its enrollees, which will improve the school's quality rating.

The Atlantic Sun is benefiting in similar ways.

Gumbart also has "Your school is Dunk City?" anecdotes. But there have also been more tangible results.

The conference will receive $500,000 in each of the next six years as part of the payout from the Eagles' run. The first sum will be received in April and will be disbursed between the Florida Gulf Coast, the conference and the schools.

Some of the money will be earmarked toward helping the rest of the conference's schools attempt to match Florida Gulf Coast's feat in all sports.

Some of that is coming by boosting the online presence so that each school's games can be watched on tablets and other devices through ESPN technology. Four schools already have it, and Gumbart hopes the rest of the schools will be online by January.

The goal is to try to ensure that any Atlantic Sun team that qualifies for the NCAA tournament in any sport will receive the best possible seed.

"It's the dream coming to reality," Gumbart said. "(Florida Gulf Coast's run) has been a tremendous boost in all those areas."

The players are growing used to playing with the bull's-eye painted by other teams and the media. "Punk City" signs are common, as are catcalls. They were the opponent when Nebraska opened its new building. They were asked by ESPN2 to play their home opener at 7 a.m. to accommodate a national broadcast.

"We end up as everybody's Super Bowl," Atlanta native Jamail Jones said.

Despite the attention, Jones and Conyers native Bernard Thompson said their lives may be the only thing that hasn't been changed by the Dunk City phenomenon.

Yes, they get recognized more on campus, but they don't take advantage of the notoriety.

"I don't let the attention get to me," Thompson said. "I loved the moment that we were having. I don't let it phase me. It's a new year. That was in the past."

Dooley --- who spent the previous 10 years as an assistant at Kansas, which is perennially under the microscope --- told Florida Gulf Coast players to enjoy the fame that can be fleeting.

"Look around the sports, you can be a one-hit wonder," Dooley said. "Do you want to have some duration? That's what we've tried to emphasize and I think the guys have embraced it."

That's exactly what the players want to avoid.

They want to make it back to the NCAA tournament and add more citizens to Dunk City.

"We want to show people it wasn't a one-time thing," Jones said. "We are here to stay."


January 26, 2014


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