SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

Program benefits from experience

NACMA/Host Communications Marketer of the Year: NCAA Division II/III


Larry Swanson
University of California-Davis
Title: Associate athletic director, external affairs
Age: 58
Education: Bachelor’s degree in education from Oregon State University, 1965; master’s degree in education, Oregon State University, 1969
UC Davis sponsors: Pepsi, Continental Airlines, Cisco Systems, Apple Computers, Hewlett-Packard, Marriott, Wells Fargo, UPS, Frito-Lay, AT&T Broadband, Krispy Kreme, UC-Davis Medical Center

The University of California-Davis athletic marketing program is not the first thing Larry Swanson has built from the ground up.

In 1984, the Division II school's associate athletic director left a campus housing post to go into private business. Over the next three years, he and two partners acquired and converted an abandoned monastery near Santa Cruz into a resort.

Swanson returned to UC Davis in 1986 and began to transform the central California campus into a sports hotbed. The result has been a program that is a regular competitor for the Sears Directors' Cup, and his efforts have landed him the NACMA/Host Communications Marketer of the Year award for NCAA Division II/III.

"I think he's one of the absolute best not just in Division II but in the whole country," said Cliff Dochterman, the associate athletic director at the University of California-Riverside. As a result, he said, UC Davis is "as good as Division I in a lot of sports."

Swanson, 58, said his brief foray into private enterprise gave him a better appreciation of "what people face in the business world every day and how we could help enhance their profile."

"I also made contacts that helped me in opening doors," Swanson said. "They didn't necessarily become sponsors, but they provided me access to some who eventually became partners."

Those partnerships brought in about $500,000 for the school in 2000-01. The development department raised another $600,000, and the "Aggie Auction," which Swanson created in 1997, took in about $275,000 last month.

What Swanson might be best known for is the "Aggie Pack," a student spirit squad that started with 50 members in 1993 and has grown to more than 8,000. The students attend games and rally Davis teams in all 25 intercollegiate sports, not just high-profile sports like football.

By growing student attendance, UC Davis was able to create interest in the school's athletics in the community, which in turn attended more games and generated more interest from sponsors trying to reach a very desirable audience, said Doug Ihmels, president of the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators.

At the same time, the Aggie Pack has become a potent lobbying group on a campus in which students can vote to tax themselves to pay for desired facilities or services. In February 1999, students levied a small fee on themselves in perpetuity to pay for $62 million in new sports facilities, including a recreation center and a multi-use stadium that is used by Davis football.

"He's not afraid of new ideas," said Ihmels, who is also the associate athletic director at the University of California-Bakersfield. "Some people who have been around a long time are looking not to rock the boat before retirement."

Swanson's passion is actually rooted in the old idea that students should be proud of where they went to school, and that pride should not be tempered by whether you're competing in Division I, II or III.

"Regardless of the level, there's reason to be proud of what we're doing," Swanson said. "Competition is competition. As long as we're on a fairly even playing field, people will be interested in supporting gifted young people."

Prior to returning to UC Davis in 1986, Swanson served as associate director of university housing and was responsible for the business operations, facility maintenance and long-range planning for the residence halls and apartment complexes on the Davis campus.

Except for his three years as a developer, Swanson has been at UC Davis since 1972. Swanson said he was a part-owner of Chaminade at Santa Cruz, the resort and meeting center which overlooks the Monterey Bay that he helped build, until it was sold in 1996.

The recent economic downturn is Swanson's latest challenge. He said he would face it "with as much innovation as possible."

"We're still fairly young at UC Davis in terms of business involvement," Swanson said. "There's still some room for growth."

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