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How Did Nebraska Volleyball Cultivate the Most Successful Women's Sports Brand?
Tracking Down the Buildup of a Successful College Sports Program
On August 30th, 2023, the Nebraska women’s volleyball team set a record for the most attendance for a women’s sports event ‘ever’. However, this isn’t just a once in a lifetime event for the Huskers, as they are slowly rewriting history for their program and the landscape of women’s sports. Today we’re looking at how the Nebraska women’s volleyball team is becoming one of the most successful women’s sports team in the world.
A Record Setting Event
In an electrifying atmosphere at the Memorial Stadium on an August evening, the Nebraska women's volleyball team not only secured a victory over in-state rivals Omaha but also signed their name in history by setting a new world record in attendance for a women’s sports event. A staggering 92,003 spectators - a sea of fervent fans - bore witness to this momentous occasion, overshadowing the previous record set at the 1999 Women’s World Cup final.
Women’s Sports Attendance Record:
Nebraska vs. Nebraska Omaha - NCAA Volleyball: 92,003 (2023)
FC Barcelona vs. VFL Wolfsburg - Champions League: 91,648 (2022)
FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid - Champions League: 91,553 (2022)
USA vs. China - World Cup Final: 90,185 (1999)
England vs. Germany - Euro 2022: 87,192 (2022)
The journey to this pinnacle of success traces back to the roots of the program, when Pat Sullivan laid its foundation in 1974, in the wake of Title IX. The transformative leadership of Terry Pettit and John Cook, however, catalyzed Nebraska’s ascendancy in women’s volleyball. Their relentless pursuit of excellence, along with an unwavering commitment to community outreach, has cemented Nebraska’s status as a powerhouse in the sport.
The evolution of Nebraska’s volleyball program is a narrative of innovation and adaptability. From Pettit's initial endeavors to elevate the sport’s prominence to Cook’s strategic moves, like relocating to the larger Bob Devaney Sports Center to accommodate an ever-growing fan base, each decision has been a stepping stone to unprecedented heights.
Capturing its first championship win in 1995, the Huskers would go on to win 4 more, placing its name as one of the greatest NCAA sports program of the millennium.
Cook’s ingenuity was once again on display as Nebraska sought to reclaim their attendance record. Memorial Stadium, with its sprawling capacity, provided the perfect stage for this ambitious undertaking. "Volleyball Day In Nebraska" transcended a regular-season match, morphing into a celebration of the sport's evolution, the athletes' prowess, and the constant support of the community.
Average Number of US Women’s Sports Attendance:
Uconn Women’s Basketball Home Games (2022): 8,892
Nebraska Women’s Volleyball Home Games (2022): 8,190
NWSL Regular Season (2022): 7,894
WNBA Regular Season (2023): 6,615
Turning Success into Profit
The important story here is understanding how Nebraska is elevating this success into actual numbers.
According to The Journal Star, Out of the 522 NCAA-sponsored women’s athletics programs at the 53 public Power 6 schools, Nebraska women’s volleyball team is the only program that turned a profit.
With ticket sales amounting to $2.1 million in the 2021-22 season and additional revenue streams like media rights ($120K) and NCAA distributions ($107K), the program's financial success is an evidence to its symbiotic relationship with its die-hard fan base, something out of the ordinary for a state with a population of just under 2 million.
Beyond ticket sales, the branding and marketing efforts of Nebraska volleyball have also been a significant factor in their financial achievements. Exclusive merchandise, limited-edition apparel, and signature events have yielded an impressive $701K from royalties, licensing, advertisements, and sponsorships. These revenue streams, along with their aggressive fan engagement strategies, have turned casual attendees into lifelong Husker supporters.
The transition to the Devaney Sports Center in 2013 was also a game-changer. With its increased capacity, the venue allowed the team to almost double its ticket revenue from $957,000 in the Coliseum to $1.6 million in its first year at Devaney.
In essence, Nebraska volleyball's journey from being on the brink of breaking even to reporting profits is a blend of sporting excellence, strategic decision-making, and a strong commitment to its fan base. With a total operating revenue of $3,812,808, only trailing behind powerhouses like Illinois and South Carolina women’s basketball, Nebraska volleyball stands as a beacon for non-revenue sports, showcasing that with dedication, planning, and community engagement, success on and off the court is achievable.
And surprisingly this is only the beginning. Not just for Nebraska, but for all of women’s sports around the world. We’re starting to see a growing number of attendance for women’s sports even outside the US, showing that programs are evolving and fans are starting to show love and attention for the sport itself.
Nebraska volleyball is simply setting a blueprint for future women’s sports programs, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more teams join the success in years to come.
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