The job of athletic director can be a pressure cooker. Raising additional revenue, hiring the right staff, maintaining relations with donors and keeping facilities up to date are enough to keep anyone up at night. SportsBusiness Journal college writer Michael Smith recently spoke with six athletic directors to see where they are focusing their efforts, where they see the biggest opportunities to grow revenue, and how they’re dealing with the many demands of running their departments.
What aspect of your job takes the most time?
Greg McGarity, Georgia: People. Not only your staff — 250 full-time staff members and 650 student athletes — but also the large number of boosters and fans. It’s a people-related business. Whether it’s issues with head coaches, assistant coaches, problems with the student-athlete experience here, or fans disgruntled with the direction of our program, or trying to solicit donations to our baseball program, it’s a people business. That consumes almost all of your time.
Chris Massaro, Middle Tennessee State: Revenue generation. Where we are, we’re always seeking to increase rev streams, whether that’s through tickets, boosters, corporate sponsorships, whatever.
Mark Coyle, Boise State: I’m in my first year at Boise State, so I spend a lot of time on personnel. As a new AD, I’m getting my arms around the department and making sure we’ve got the right people in the right roles.
Rick Villarreal, North Texas: Fundraising and facilities. We came into a situation 10 years ago where we had no facilities. We were playing in public parks. For the last 10 years, and more intensely the last three to four years, we’ve been very focused on facilities. We’re not as big as some schools, but people are usually shocked at how well we measure up facility-wise now.
Kathy Beauregard, Western Michigan: It just takes an extensive amount of time to manage your staff. We’re meeting, we’re talking about our goals and objectives, we’re talking about performance measures. All of that takes time.
Is there an off-the-radar aspect of the job that takes up a lot of time?
Coyle: Conference realignment is something that’s impacting a lot of our programs. Before I got here, the decision was made to move football to the Big East and all of the other sports to the Big West. Obviously, it’s such a changing landscape, it’s something you have to monitor all the time.
Moos: Because of our location, travel takes a lot of time. Our major markets are quite a ways away.
|A year ago, Washington State Athletic Director Bill Moos showed off a rendering of a remodeling project planned for the school’s football stadium. |
Beauregard: It’s probably the amount of time I spend with student athletes. I used to coach myself, so I really feel like it’s important to be seen as an AD. You have to be active with the student athletes to know what’s happening and what’s on their mind. … And then there’s the revenue piece. You don’t put your head on the pillow at night without thinking about how you’re going to increase revenue.
McGarity: The biggest is liability, in general. You’ve got summer camps, which are getting a lot of attention now. You’ve got the liability of bringing young athletes on campus. We’re dealing with background checks — just trying to learn from others’ mistakes. When you see issues happen somewhere else, you have a review process internally to make sure you don’t have those same problems. Liability in general, people in your stadium, making sure you provide a safe environment, that’s a huge responsibility.
Villarreal says he keeps a close eye on compliance issues, telling people around the campus, "If they know something, they have a responsibility to tell me."
Massaro: Well, we always think when we have a construction project, that it’s the most important thing going on, but we have to be aware that the university moves at a different pace. We’re building parking garages and science buildings, and we have to recognize the other pressures that we have on campus.
Is there a revenue line that has the most potential for growth?
McGarity: There’s no question that it’s scholarship endowments — the donation piece there. That’s just here and not counting SEC revenue down the road. Really, the only way to increase revenue here are ticket price increases and increases in donations — seat licenses that you have for football. We’re focusing more on endowing coaching positions.
|Says Beauregard: “You don’t put your head on the pillow at night without thinking about how you’re going to increase revenue.” |
Coyle: For us, it’s the media side. With the move to the Big East for football, we’re part of the negotiations for a new media deal. Ticket sales also are an important area as we look to grow our fan base with football. We do have football tickets available for some games. It depends on who we’re playing. Sometimes the student tickets don’t get used, and we’re trying to be creative with how we market them. We expanded our football stadium by 4,000 seats, so we have had new inventory to sell. Our ticket prices increased 4 percent for football, but we were able to set a record for season-ticket sales. In men’s basketball, we cut prices in half to get more people exposed to the program.
Villarreal: We opened our stadium a year ago and I think there’s a lot of potential for us in new ticket sales and the amenities that we have to offer now. We’re also a factor in the corporate community now. We’ve got 36,000 students and 100,000 alums in the Dallas market, so we have an ability to create corporate partnerships that haven’t been there in the past.
Moos: We just started the first year of a $3 billion TV deal for the conferences, so our TV revenue overnight is going to jump from $2.8 million to about $20 million. That’s enabled us to invest in facilities and to hire a coach like Mike Leach and his staff. Once the Pac-12 Networks are going strong, institutions are going to see another $10 million-plus per year.
Massaro: For us, it’s what we receive from the conference. As we’ve all seen with the new conference affiliations, with the new BCS deal, with the trickle down from TV contracts, there’s lots of room for growth there.
Beauregard: We’re actually seeing nice increases in the guarantees that we receive from playing road football games.
What expense line is growing the fastest?
Beauregard: There’s no doubt it’s salaries. We’re in a situation where we’re turning over our football coach for the first time in eight years and there have been significant market increases in that time. It’s up to us to find the resources so that we can make the right hire.
Massaro said tuition expenses are rising so quickly, it puts even added pressure on the athletic budget.
Moos: Mostly travel costs. When you’re in the Pac-12 and it stretches from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, you’ve got to go a ways to get anywhere. Nothing is easy or inexpensive. When you’ve got to get your baseball team down south to get in the warm weather, it’s expensive. We’re also paying our coaches a lot more money. We went from paying $500,000 a year for a coach to $2.2 million, but that’s what we needed to do to be competitive.
Villarreal: Tuition increases are going up the fastest. Some might say coaches’ salaries, but the expense line that I make sure is accounted for in the budget process is putting a number on scholarships.
Massaro: It’s got to be tuition. And unfortunately that’s something you can’t control. We get hit with tuition increases, housing increases, university-wide budget cuts, and it all makes it difficult to operate.
McGarity: You’ve got standard increases with scholarship increases, as tuition rises. That affects our bottom line. You’ve got increases in insurance and utilities, and those are continuing to grow. You’re seeing travel expenses grow. That might factor how you schedule your nonconference events. We have not had a pay raise on this campus in three years, so hopefully we’ll have raises at some point, so that will be an increase.
What is one thing you’re most curious about, in terms of other ADs and other campuses?
Moos: The big one in our conference [Pac-12] is football attendance. With all of the games on television, which is what you wish for, you worry about people that have the option of staying at home and watching the game. And then your gate goes down. That’s a common theme among our colleagues.
Massaro: I’m always following coaching searches because I’m curious about the domino effects. I ask other ADs what
|McGarity said Georgia is focusing more on endowing coaching positions. |
Beauregard: I ask other ADs about complexities in coaching contracts, dealing with agents, how buyouts are paid. That area has gotten so difficult to navigate and it changes every day. I try to pick up as many best practices as there are.
McGarity: I always ask another AD, “What makes your department better than anyone else’s?” I talked to Rob Mullens at Oregon and asked, “What makes Oregon different?” He said he has a staff that’s so creative with ideas, but on the back end there’s not a financial cost associated with it. We’re directly the opposite. We’ve got a group that focuses so much on dollars that sometimes we get bogged down with coming up with new ideas.
Coyle: Again, being in the first year at Boise State, I’ve done a complete inventory of our program and I’ve taken a hard look at our facilities and what others are doing. We’re working on a new football complex, and facilities for our Olympic sports. The question I always ask other ADs is what they’re doing for capital improvements. We typically talk about specific facilities, locker rooms, training rooms, things we can do to create the “wow factor” for our student athletes.
Villarreal: I’m always curious about what costs are funded through the athletic department and what’s funded somewhere else. When I compare budgets with someone else, I question what’s included. Are you paying for academic services? Are you paying for utilities?
What is your toughest competition for donor or ticket dollars?
McGarity: I don’t think it’s the pro sports in Atlanta. We have a tremendous donor base, so we’re sold out of tickets for every game. I think our biggest competition is the expendable dollar. Is the experience of coming to Sanford Stadium worth the $40 or $45 ticket for a family of four? Is it worth it to come to the stadium, fight traffic? We’ve tried to work hard to create that experience at the game that you’d have at home.
Coyle said Boise's isolated location makes it even more important to provide a fan experience that will make people want to drive long distances to attend sporting events.
Villarreal: A lot of people would say that since we’re in the Dallas market and deal with the Cowboys and the Mavericks, our biggest competition is professional sports. I understand that. This might sound crazy, but I really believe our biggest competition is fighting the apathy that existed here for so long. From the time Hayden Fry left in the late ’70s, the university didn’t invest and our toughest competition has been getting people to come back. Rebuilding the culture is what’s been tough.
Moos: Well, for one, Gonzaga basketball is competition. They’ve done a nice job of producing winning teams. We’ve got a lot of fans in Spokane, and some of them are content to go across the street to watch them play. We have to get into the Spokane market.
Massaro: We’re 45 minutes from Nashville, so with the whole Nashville market, the entertainment dollar is stretched pretty thin, whether it’s the music industry or the pro franchises in town or the SEC. I throw in the whole league because the brand of the SEC is so powerful. We fight that.
Beauregard: We sit between Detroit and Chicago, and we’re an hour and a half from Ann Arbor, Michigan State and Notre Dame. Expanding our alumni base against all of that competition is huge for us. We’re also impacted by the economy. Our largest student population comes from metro Detroit, and the largest number of alums lives in Detroit. They’ve been hit significantly by the amount of people out of work or leaving the state.
How many millions in construction do you have going on right now?
Massaro: Nothing, really, right now. We’ve got about $12 million in the planning stages for an indoor multipurpose facility for football, baseball, soccer and track. And we’re looking at an indoor tennis facility.
Beauregard: Not a lot right now, but we just finished about $28 million in construction. We’ve done most of what we
Coyle: We’re north of $30 million in construction projects. We’re working on a new football complex and that’s $26 million. We also completed a new outdoor track and field complex for $6 million.
McGarity: Fortunately for us, only about $2 million. When I got here in 2010, we were coming off a stadium addition, the renovation of the coliseum and an addition to the football building. The brick-and-mortar projects have really given us tremendous growth. We’re fundraising for a $10 million baseball stadium renovation. We’re renovating concrete, trying to be as green as we can in our mechanical systems. We’re reinvesting in our structures so they stand the test of time.
Villarreal: Well, I look at our stadium as an ongoing project and that’s $74 million. We also have [about $8 million] in a basketball practice facility and a golf practice facility. We’re also looking at a baseball stadium.
Moos: We’re in the middle of a $65 million stadium renovation and our board just approved a $61 million football operations building. So that’s $126 million that we’re pretty aggressively trying to get done. Right now in the conference, there are more than $1 billion in construction projects going on.
Should the NCAA adopt the measure that would pay stipends to athletes?
McGarity: We’d love to see the stipend enacted. We think that’s a step in the right direction. On the flip side, we’re one of the few schools that can afford that. A lot cannot.
Beauregard: I’m not in favor of it in the way it was proposed. I understand why the institutions that can afford it would do it. With all of the TV contracts, playoff money and corporate dollars coming in, I understand how this is viewed. I just don’t think this issue has been fully vetted through the membership, so we voted no. There are a lot of unanswered questions about it.
Moos: It’s needed. At our place, it would cost just over $300,000, but we need to work through the equivalency aspect of it for the Olympic sports. We’re asking our athletes to be on campus year-round without a window to get a job. It costs more to attend than what’s in a scholarship.
Villarreal: My answer, a lot of times, is that people don’t realize all the things already being done for student athletes. Most point out tuition, room and books, but that’s not it. We have a full academic staff, tutors for every kid that needs them, a lot of things that are not available to regular students. That said, I don’t know what the right number is for a stipend, but you have to look at the full cost of attendance and that money needs to be there.
Massaro: There should be some trickle down to student athletes within the scholarship structure, as long as it’s delivered in a way to all of our athletes and it keeps gender equity where it should be.
Coyle: Boy, that’s a topic that has generated a lot of attention nationally, and what I would say is that we will do whatever we need to do to be competitive. If that’s something that’s enacted nationally, we’ll be a part of it.
Do you tweet?
Massaro: I started this fall. It’s just another avenue to reach people, and it’s a chance to tell your side of the story. I find it to be a time saver in some ways, because you get all of the bullet points you need on an issue and you don’t have to navigate the Web as much. I’ve encouraged all of our coaches to do it, too, because that’s how high schoolers communicate today.
McGarity: No, but I do follow some of our athletes, some of our coaches, some of our media. We had a discussion at last year’s Division I AD meeting in Dallas, and one speaker encouraged ADs to tweet and another speaker discouraged it.
Coyle: I follow people on Twitter, but I don’t tweet myself.
Villarreal: I don’t tweet. To be honest, I don’t have the time.
Moos: Nope. I just started texting six months ago so that I can communicate with the kids. We just took Twitter away from the football team.
Beauregard: I actually started tweeting [last week]. I have held back and I don’t want to get into this ridiculous thing where I’m tweeting every time I go somewhere.
Turnkey Sports Poll
The following are results of the Turnkey Sports Poll taken in November. The survey covered more than 1,100 senior-level sports industry executives spanning professional and college sports.
How would you rate the current popularity of college sports?
|Worse than ever||Poor||Fair||Good||Better than ever||Not sure|
|All other college sports||3%||23%||42%||25%||5%||2%|
Source: Turnkey Sports & Entertainment