The phone started ringing about 10 seconds after Patrick Baldwin Jr. announced his commitment to play basketball at UW-Milwaukee
"I got my first phone call, and then I got my second phone call," Julius Martinez, assistant athletic director of ticket sales and services at UW-Milwaukee Athletics. "As I'm on the phone talking to one person, I see the queue just building up with calls, and I was like, 'This is insane.'"
Baldwin Jr., a 6-foot 10-inch forward from Sussex Hamilton High School, is among the of highest-ranked players in the class of 2021 and the highest-ranked recruit ever to sign with a Horizon League program, according to UW-Milwaukee. Last Wednesday, he chose UW-Milwaukee over Duke and Georgetown so he can play for his father and head coach, Patrick Baldwin Sr.
Within 24 hours of the news
, UW-Milwaukee's athletic department sold more than 200 new season ticket memberships, generating more than $40,000 in revenue, said Martinez. At one point, he thought the ticket website had crashed because of the sudden influx of online traffic. As of Monday morning, new season memberships totaled 350 and $63,000 in revenue.
Based on initial interest, UW-Milwaukee anticipates a 70% increase in 2021-22 season ticket sales compared to the 2019-20 season, which saw a total of 485 members, according to Adam Schemm, senior associate athletic director for external relations. The 2020-21 season was played without fans due to the pandemic, so the department is using the previous season as a more accurate point of comparison, he said.
About a month ago, Schemm and his team mapped out a plan to handle the impact of Baldwin Jr.'s possible commitment.
"We anticipated people being interested and excited, but I don't know if we anticipated this much excitement and engagement," he said.
Martinez largely operates solo as the ticket sales lead,
which made for a hectic few days last week as he juggled basketball on top of a home baseball series. He said Monday morning that there were still about 80 unopened voicemails sitting in his inbox.
With demand expected to grow stronger ahead of the basketball season, the department plans to hire additional ticket sales staff in the coming months. And to keep the momentum going, it's working on a few engagement opportunities for new and return season ticket members, such as a virtual meet-and-greets with Coach Baldwin.
"We know the importance, especially as we go into next season, of making sure that everyone who is either returning as a season ticket member or is a new season member who's going to come out to one or two games, that they have a great experience at those events," said Schemm. "We want to make sure when they come to UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena next year, they have a phenomenal experience -- not just with what is on the basketball court."
"Who knows what the future may look like, but
while we have this audience, we have to really exceed their expectations," said Martinez.
For a university not typically known for its basketball team, recruiting the fourth best player in the country (according to 247Sports) has the potential to amount to much more than increased ticket sales.
If the Panthers live up to the hype, avenues such as fundraising, corporate sponsorships and arena concessions could all feel the Baldwin Jr. effect -- not to mention university admissions, said Schemm.
"We've seen other basketball teams and athletic departments help drive university admissions -- Georgia State when they made the NCAA tournament a couple years ago and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County," he said. "Positive success from an athletic standpoint can help drive university admissions."