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The Big East yesterday named former WNBA President Val Ackerman Commissioner, and the new conference "wanted to follow the model of the Pac-12, which hired Larry Scott, who had been head of women's professional tennis," according to Andy Katz of ESPN.com. The Big East recently had "centered on candidates outside of college athletics" in Ackerman, MLB Exec VP/Business Tim Brosnan and Celtics President Rich Gotham. The new conference currently has "no staff," but its offices will be in N.Y. (ESPN.com, 6/26). In Newark, Brendan Prunty notes Ackerman yesterday admitted that her "current office is her iPhone and that the league is looking to find a short-term space" in N.Y. From there it will be "building alliances and forging relationships that will help the new Big East rise to the level of the old one." Ackerman said, "Obviously, there is quite a lot of work to do in the immediate future to get the conference fully operational. We have people to hire. We have schedules to create. We have events to stage. We have office space to move into. Business plans to develop. All I can say today is that we will do that" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 6/27). Ackerman said that the work of scheduling fall sports for the Big East "has been accomplished under the guidance of former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who was brought in to jump-start the planning process in March and will stay on 'in the near term.'" In DC, Liz Clarke notes Ackerman "pledged to ensure that the Big East was a key player in NCAA decisions about men’s and women’s basketball, and she alluded to a desire to extend the Big East brand globally, presumably by holding occasional games overseas" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/27).
THE RIGHT STUFF: In N.Y., Lenn Robbins writes Ackerman is "paper perfect, a bridge between the founding days" of late former Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt and the "future days of reshaping and rebranding the new Big East." The conference "made it quite clear yesterday" that it wants to be "seen as a shining example of what it believes a college conference should be -- one committed to athletic success and academic excellence." That "doesn't mean that Ackerman ... doesn't know what the sports entertainment business is all about." She is "smart, shrewd and well respected -- conservative in style but not above being professionally conniving" (N.Y. POST, 6/27). ESPN.com's Katz wrote Ackerman yesterday "impressed the media" yesterday with her "command of the issues and knowledge of the landscape after not being involved in college athletics recently." Meanwhile, if the Big East is "going to be all about basketball then 10 is the magic number." The new Big East "doesn't need anymore of the A-10 schools to be solvent." The conference has "enough of the market place and would not benefit much from adding more schools simply to get more teams" in the NCAA Tournament (ESPN.com, 6/27). Ackerman said of any potential Big East expansion, "Ten is a great number. We have no immediate plans to go beyond it. We have so much on our plate" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/27).
MEDIA DARLINGS: In Philadelphia, Mike Jensen wrote, "This new Big East incarnation is not against exposure or making money." Ackerman has an "immediate chance to show her mettle." Her "first test" will be to "stand up to Fox as it puts together its first college hoops schedule." The network "isn't in the student-athlete business," and would have "zero problem showing games any night of the week." Ackerman's next test will be to "stand up to the presidents themselves," as she knows "more about sports than most or maybe all of them do" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 6/27). Ackerman said Big East schools "have a homogeneity that is important, and desirable, and attractive." SPORTS ON EARTH's Howard Megdal writes Fox Sports 1 "certainly thought so," and "so did Madison Square Garden." The Big East has "plenty of money, and the kind of stability that other conferences can only bring about with restrictive grants of media rights agreements." So while the Big East is "insulated from the potential downfall of college football over the medium- and long-term, it is also avoiding the largest single payout in college sports right now: the conference network" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 6/27).
American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco said when choosing the conference's new moniker, it "needed a name that was clean, fresh, that was strong, durable, wasn't gimmicky and reflected values,” according to Joseph Duarte of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Aresco: “How do you argue with American and what it represents? It didn't to us represent geography because geography can be difficult, and we didn't want to use a number. We like the term athletic and thought it also signified strength and we wanted to be called a conference and not a league.” Aresco, who formerly served as CBS Sports Exec VP/Programming, said the AAC’s new deals with ESPN and CBS Sports "essentially gave us viability as a conference." He added, "If we had not been able to do the kind of TV deals that we did, then we would have been in some real jeopardy. We feel in terms of exposure we got everything this conference needs to grow and thrive. What we didn't get was the kind of dollars we wanted or thought we would get originally, but we understand why. We had that period of instability where we had teams leaving that definitely affected certain perceptions” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 6/27).
CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC: In Hartford, John Altavilla notes the '14 AAC women's basketball tournament will be held at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., and the conference "will have the option to return there" in '15. The old Big East women's tourney was held at XL Center in Hartford, and the move means it “could be difficult for the capital city to get it back." However, XL Center officials "insist that they will try.” Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino CEO Mitchell Etess would not say what specific financial incentives were offered to the AAC, but the casino's operating company will assist the AAC “in promotion with its multimillion-dollar advertising and marketing initiatives, and the opportunities for corporate signs during the tournament will also bring in money” for the conference. The effort of the XL Center to “retain the tournament was hampered by the timing of the shift in management to Global Spectrum, which was awarded control of the building and of Rentschler Field in February.” XL Center GM Chris Lawrence, who will manage the venue for Global Spectrum, said, "When the contract comes around again we'll certainly be as aggressive as we possibly can to bring the women and the men" (HARTFORD COURANT, 6/27).
A billboard featuring Arizona State RB D.J. Foster “went up at a prominent intersection in Tucson less than four miles” from the Univ. of Arizona's football stadium as part of an "aggressive marketing campaign ASU launched over the weekend," according to Tyler Lockman of FOXSPORTSARIZONA.com. The campaign emphasizes the "success of local players who donned the maroon and gold” for ASU. About 20 billboards featuring current and former ASU players from the state “went up around the metro Phoenix area over the weekend in what is the first phase" of the school's "Stay True" campaign. The signs featuring former players included the phrase, "ASU Football Where Arizona Stars Become Legends." Those featuring Foster read, "Stay True." Both include the hashtag, "StayTrue2ASU." Former ASU stars currently featured include Cardinals TE Todd Heap, Seahawks TE Zach Miller and former NFLer Adam Archuleta, "all local products who went on to star in the NFL after prolific ASU careers.” ASU Senior Associate AD/External Relations Rocky Harris said that additional billboards “featuring other former players with Arizona roots were designed and could be part of future phases of the campaign.” Those players “must consent to ASU using their images.” Future phases of the campaign “might also extend beyond football to include local talents in other sports.” Phoenix-based Owens Harkey Advertising "helped design the billboards and determine locations.” UA has had billboards in the Phoenix area “for a few years, featuring needling slogans” like "Head South, Move Ahead" and "Welcome to Arizona, This is Wildcat Country." But “none have been as directly tied to athletics” (FOXSPORTSARIZONA.com, 6/25).
RUNNING WITH THE DEVILS: In Phoenix, Doug Haller reports ASU’s on-field success last season “has resulted in a strong push in off-season season-ticket renewals and sales.” ASU officials said that the school has seen a 93% renewal rate from last year’s season-ticket holders, "which is a significant bump" from the previous year when they had just a 78% renewal rate. ASU does not release season-ticket numbers, but officials “expect to see an increase in home attendance this season.” The school last year “averaged 56,835 fans over six games at Sun Devil Stadium," which seats 71,706. That figure "ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in home attendance.” Several factors "likely have contributed to the increased interest,” including on-field success, customer service and the home schedule. ASU has “worked with the Disney Institute to help improve its game-day experience" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 6/27).