Gonzaga's rise this week to the top spot in the college basketball polls is paying big dividends for the little Spokane school. And the university is doing all it can to capitalize. (AP image)

Gonzaga's No. 1 ranking paying big off court

Gonzaga's rise this week to the top spot in the college basketball polls is paying big dividends for the little Spokane school, and the university is doing all it can to capitalize.

The Zags were already a national brand thanks to several surprising showings in the NCAA tournament over the last decade, with royalties from the sales of merchandise growing by about 25 percent every year since their first Cinderella showing in 1999, ESPN's Darren Rovell reported Thursday.

But after the No. 1 ranking Monday, sales exploded. The university sold 2,300 newly printed No. 1 T-shirts in the 24 hours after the ranking was announced - with sales each day this week topping the monthly average, says Dave Sonntag, Asst. VP of Communications and Marketing for the school.

But it's about far more than just basketball. Sonntag says the basketball team's popularity opens the door for people to learn about everything the school does.

"Our web page hits more than doubled on Monday and so we said 'OK we have all these guests coming to our doorstep. How do we want to show them around? How do we want to welcome them?'"

The exposure has helped bring heightened attention to such offerings as Gonzaga's global programs and law school, luring new students and increased donations.

"Its resulted in more students being interested, more students coming here, alumni being excited and wanting to contribute to what we have going on," Sontag says.

Pretty impressive for such a scrappy upstart from Spokane. But Sontag says that's always been the spirit of the basketball team and the school as a whole.

"It started out with this team that would go on the road and play anybody and everybody and they were the underdog and if you think about it Father Cataldo who started Gonzaga, he was an underdog. He was a frail Jesuit and yet he went on to do so many things and establish this university."

Pretty lofty heights. And now that they've had a taste of the big time, Sonntag admits it's tough not to want even more - like perhaps a trip to the Final Four or even a national championship. But for this week at least, No.1 is good enough for these dogs.

Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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