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

Quick jump to I-A carried pains, then reward

NACMA/Host Communications Marketer of the Year: NCAA Division I-A


John Lambert
University at Buffalo
Title: Senior assistant athletic director for external relations
Age: 35
Education: Graduated from Niagara College of Applied Arts and Technology, Welland, Ontario, in 1985 with a degree in retail management
University at Buffalo sponsors: Adelphia Communications Corp., Tops Markets, Target, M&T Bank, Niagara Mohawk Power Corp.

Building a Division I-A athletic program is obviously an enormous challenge. Try making it happen in an expedited fashion and in a city that is absorbed by professional sports.

That is the task the University at Buffalo embarked on just over a decade ago. The wounds of moving too quickly are evident. The football team and the men's basketball team have yet to find a winning recipe, both teams have changed coaches in the past year and the hoops program has just gone through an NCAA investigation.

Now, completing its second full year of operation in the Mid-American Conference, the UB athletic department is at least exhibiting signs of finding its way along the Division I-A landscape. The NACMA/Host Communications Marketer of the Year award for Division I-A is more of a reward for the efforts of those charged with raising the profile of athletics at UB.

John Lambert, senior assistant athletic director for external relations, will receive the honor, but the fingerprints of many others within the university are all over it. And he is quick to name those who have implemented a scope of programs to enhance the image of all Bulls teams, not just those in the revenue-generating sports: Dawn Reed, marketing coordinator for women's athletics; Rob Suglia, student relations coordinator; Jill Rexinger-Kuhn, promotions director; Alan Kegler, design manager/senior art director in the UB Publications Department.

"Specifically, it's under my umbrella, but I trust these people to present the best programs," Lambert said. "We've tried to implement standard programs across the board — promotional T-shirts, team photos, poster schedules. That may not seem like much, but when those teams don't have anything, it's a step forward. We're going to lay a foundation to help the Olympic sports and women's programs."

One of Lambert's first charges under Director of Athletics Bob Arkeilpane, who replaced Nelson Townsend two years ago, was ensuring UB met mandated NCAA attendance and stadium expansion requirements allowing entry as a Division I-A football team in 1998. "Mission I-A" was successfully met, allowing UB marketers to begin focusing on the entire program.

In the age of gender equity, UB has benefited with assistance from the New York State Legislature. Nan Harvey, associate athletic director/senior women's administrator at UB, said lawmakers have budgeted $1.6 million over the past two years to help the Bulls market women's programs. As a result of that additional funding, the women's basketball team has been able to have games broadcast on both radio and TV.

"Everyone tailors their department to the local markets. It's more specific than people realize," said Rick Chryst, commissioner of the MAC. "The following that's being developed for women's sports at UB is something our schools will learn from."

This past season a women's basketball attendance record was set when more than 4,000 fans turned out at Alumni Arena to see the Bulls knock off North Carolina. Through a partnership with the university's conference and special events, basketball commentator Dick Vitale addressed a pregame men's crowd and, to highlight a promotion for National Girls and Women in Sports Day, WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes spoke before a women's game. Last summer, as students were returning to campus, a "Rockin' Rally" featuring singer Eddie Money attracted more than 5,000 to kick off the football season.

As the "arms race," as some NCAA officials have called it, continues to escalate, the revenue-generating sports will always be viewed differently.

"They're not the same and the percentage of promotion we do cannot be the same," Lambert said. "With so many financial demands on football and men's and women's basketball, it's impossible to allocate those funds equally. However, it isn't impossible to increase our promotional efforts in sports that do not get the notoriety as revenue sports. We've taken steps through creation of these [departmental] positions and revenue allocation to make sure they do get exposure."

Rick Maloney writes for Business First of Buffalo.

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