Louisville, Kentucky is seeing red these days – but that’s a good thing. In an unprecedented bracket-busting March Madness tournament, the University of Louisville men’s basketball team became national champions, beating the University of Michigan 82-76.
Entering the Georgia Dome wearing shirts emblazoned with ‘Rise to the Occasion,’ the number-one seed Cardinals lived up to that promise, winning the national championship in a hotly contested match-up against the fourth seeded Wolverines. The game delivered dazzling dunks and spectacular 3-pointers as Louisville fought its way to victory behind Tournament MVP Luke Hancock. That excitement, coupled with tremendous fan loyalty, drove demand for Cardinal merchandise.
“It all began when we won the Big East Tournament,” says University of Louisville Bookstore Manager Scott Schuknech. “We started to see an increase in sales for Louisville merchandise, especially Big East Champion t-shirts. When we were given the number-one seed in our bracket, the demand really heated up.”
Heating up is an understatement. With both the men’s and the women’s teams making it into the finals, the City of Louisville dressed itself in red leading up the championship games.
“With each win – making it to the Sweet Sixteen, the Final Four and then the Finals – our store and online sales just exploded,” recalls Schuknech. “To have one team in the finals is incredible, but to have both the men’s and the women’s teams make it is something most schools never experience.”
As both teams won on the court, the University of Louisville scored big as sales in the University of Louisville Bookstore increased an astounding 1,300%.
“This city has been a sea of red for the past few weeks,” reports Schuknech. “Anything with Louisville on it was flying off the shelves. Louisville students, faculty, and local high school students have been shopping in the store for Cardinal shirts and hats. And our online orders positively blew up. We had orders from all over the country. It’s taken our sales to a whole other level.”
Barnes & Noble College has been operating the Louisville campus bookstore since 2001 and has the infrastructure in place to produce large quantities of Louisville merchandise on a moment’s notice. The campus store was undeterred by the high demand for merchandise and the quick turn-around required as both teams continually advanced in the tournament. “We worked closely with our Home Office on the graphics and ordering for Sweet Sixteen, Final Four, Finals and Championship merchandise,” Schuknech explains.
Service is the real differentiator, explains David Stephens, Regional Manager for Barnes & Noble College. “We’ve built our reputation upon service, which allowed us to create and sell an incredible amount of apparel during this tournament. The University of Louisville is an amazing partner and because of our great partnership, we were able to meet that high demand,” he adds.
Stephens says “if win” orders for Louisville and other Barnes & Noble College partners in both NCAA tournaments were developed simultaneously, including graphics, quantities and logistics. That means that within an hour of a team winning, fans could go online and begin ordering shirts.
“This was an extraordinarily exciting time for Louisville,” Schuknech says. “To see the incredible school pride – and Cardinal red all over the city – was just amazing. It was great for the school, for the city, for fans and for our bookstore.”