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ESPN exposure for Villanova is worth the cost

Villanova spent nearly $50,000 equipping the Pavilion for ESPN's College GameDay telecast on Saturday morning. Renting two video boards cost $22,000. Building a platform to accommodate the announcers cost nearly another $30,000.

Villanova students cheer during ESPN's College GameDay. (Akira Suwa/Staff Photographer)
Villanova students cheer during ESPN's College GameDay. (Akira Suwa/Staff Photographer)Read more

Villanova spent nearly $50,000 equipping the Pavilion for ESPN's College GameDay telecast on Saturday morning. Renting two video boards cost $22,000. Building a platform to accommodate the announcers cost nearly another $30,000.

The university sacrificed the additional revenue it could have generated by holding Saturday night's game against fourth-ranked Pittsburgh at the spacious Wells Fargo Center instead of the 6,500-seat Pavilion.

But the bump it received from having the university and the basketball program on the goliath that is ESPN for two hours on Saturday?

"Impossible to value," Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro said.

From 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, it was as if ESPN were running a two-hour infomercial about Villanova. Rece Davis, Hubert Davis, Digger Phelps, and Jay Bilas sat at midcourt and discussed college basketball, with Erin Andrews, when not graciously agreeing to pose for a picture with someone's infant or obliging an autograph request, interviewing Jay Wright.

Sure, there was talk about Ohio State and Wisconsin, Louisville and Syracuse, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. But the focus was 'Nova Nation. The students, nearly two-thirds of the undergraduate enrollment in attendance with signs and shirts, screaming and bouncing and making it deafeningly loud. The campus. The coach. The program. The success.

ESPN ran a touching piece about two student managers, sophomore Frank Kineavy and freshman Nick Gaynor, who have cerebral palsy. It showed an instructional piece in which Wright used Corey Fisher to demonstrate how he teaches Villanova's guards to drive into the lane and draw fouls. Andrews interviewed Wright for nearly five minutes, and the whole team watched as the school retired the jersey of former Wildcat Randy Foye, now in his fourth NBA season.

In this day and age, you can't pay enough for that kind of positive exposure. On ESPN. During its marquee show. As the regular season grinds to an end. When people have closed the book on the NFL season and turned their attention to college hoops.

Never mind that later that night the basketball team, ranked ninth in the country, put its 46-game winning streak at the Pavilion on the line against the fourth-ranked Panthers, who had lost just two games all season. On ESPN. As the featured game of the day.

Villanova is on one of the ESPN networks all the time, but to have that GameDay show on campus in the morning, and then an hourlong pregame show, was incredible advertising and further reminder that Villanova is among college basketball's elite.

"I don't think this would matter as much if they weren't really good," Bilas said. "We're here because they're really good, and I think what this does is put the spotlight on how good they've been and what they have to offer. They can use this in that way, but you have to be really good for it to work. You could shine a spotlight [on a program] that isn't this good, and it wouldn't sell."

That is true. This is Wright's 10th season at Villanova. He has had the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament six consecutive times, with four trips to the Sweet Sixteen, two to the Elite Eight, and one to the Final Four. Saturday night against Pitt, the Wildcats were gunning for their sixth straight 20-win season. Since 2004-05, Villanova is 170-58.

One thing is missing, of course, and that is a national championship. But Wright has made Villanova consistently relevant. So part of Saturday's celebration was about that, too.

"It's just unbelievable from where we started when I first got here, even though we had an unbelievable tradition in the years before," Foye said. "With Coach Wright first coming in, his dream is winning a national championship. But to have something like this here, it's unbelievable."

Just after midnight on Friday night, Wright drove by the Pavilion and saw what he estimated to be about 150 students camped out to get a ticket to the morning festivities. He ordered pizzas for them and hung out for a bit. By 8 a.m. Saturday, the line to get a free ticket snaked up Ithan Avenue to Lancaster Avenue.

At 9 a.m., the bleachers behind one basket were packed with students, as were the seats along one sideline, seats usually reserved for staid season-ticket holders.

During the show, the Pavilion was as loud as anyone could remember ever hearing it. The school estimated that 5,500 people were in attendance, although that number seemed a little high. The crowd was mostly students.

ESPN has been doing its GameDay production for seven years and had tried for years to schedule Villanova. For one reason or another, it had not worked out until now, and this worked only because Villanova officials agreed to play the Pitt game at the Pavilion.

Villanova nets three times more from games at the Wells Fargo Center than it does at the Pavilion.

Forgoing that revenue this time was a wise choice.

"That piece with Frankie and Nick, that's the Villanova family," Wright said. "That's what we have here. Somebody might think it's corny. That's OK. That's OK. But if you want to be a part of that, that's who we are.

"So we got to show that across the country. Same thing with Corey Fisher and how we play. They asked us, 'Your guards are really good getting to the lane. Can you show us how you do it?' We want guards that want to play that way, so we got to show that."

What was it worth?

"It's very valuable," Wright said, smiling. "Very valuable."