No. 1 Gonzaga has become a national brand

It has been a long time since we've considered Gonzaga a Cinderella, but the Bulldogs are certainly worth talking about now that they're No. 1 for the first time in the men's basketball polls.

Gonzaga first became a national name in 1999, and the amount of Gonzaga merchandise being sold nationwide is remarkable. After generating a paltry $26,000 in licensing royalties in 2000, royalties have grown by about 25 percent every single year since then.

Gonzaga is based in Spokane, Wash., but you can now find a hat featuring the school's bulldog mascot in stores in New York City. You might find a sporting goods store anywhere in the country carrying a Gonzaga jersey or shorts.

Kris Kassel, Gonzaga's associate athletic director of external operations, was recently in North Carolina and ordered room service in the hotel. When he opened the door, the hotel employee immediately smiled at his Gonzaga shirt.

"I like UNC," the man told Kassel. "But in February and March, when the Tar Heels aren't playing, I love rooting for Gonzaga."

"We of course have our own loyal fan base," Kassel said. "But we like to think of ourselves as everyone's second-favorite college basketball team."

Kassel said this year's run has been good to the school at retail. There are about 1,200 more Gonzaga items at retail versus last season, and the team's success has led to a 50 percent increase in March Madness artwork submitted by potential licensees.

The school sold 2,300 No. 1 T-shirts in the 24 hours after Gonzaga achieved the ranking. Sales on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were each equivalent to a month of average in-season sales, Kassel said.

In order to cash in on the moment, Gonzaga is offering different versions of a panoramic photo taken at a recent game in exchange for a $250, $1,000 or $5,000 donation. The goal is to raise $1.1 million in a week toward an endowment for the school's basketball program.