Press conference quotes from Thursday's AD candidatesMarch 31, 2005 · MT Media Relations
Opening comment: "It's great to be here. I'm having a great visit on the campus. I had a chance to meet with the committee this morning and they asked a lot of great questions. We had a good exchange. I've had a chance to see the athletic facilities, which I'm very impressed with, and I've met with the athletic staff."
What have been your greatest challenges in fundraising?
"I think the greatest challenge in fund-raising where I am at Arizona State is trying to raise money when your football team goes 4-7 and you are in a very competitive market place. In the Phoenix market the (Arizona) Cardinals share our football stadium, we have the Phoenix Suns, we've got hockey, we've got professional baseball, we've got Cactus League Baseball, we've got the world's largest-attended PGA event, we've got NASCAR, so we compete with everything along with golf courses and weather so I think there are similarities between Middle Tennessee State University and Arizona State University in how fast the schools are growing. At Arizona State we have 54,000 students but we only have 5,500 beds on campus so we have a lot of students coming to campus and leaving campus every day so there's a lot of those challenges but you just have to work through them."
How do you compete with pro sports because that is something you have to compete with in the Nashville market?
"I think you have to figure out that just putting together and brochure and mailing it out or just thinking you are going to put your team on the field and people are going to come sit in the stands is the old way of thinking, in my view. I believe you have to think of new things. We've started the Devils domain.net at Arizona State University. It's a permission-based e-mail so we are pushing content to our customers all week long. We are pushing screen savers. They are uploading photos from the game. We are giving them offers to come attend our games at a discount. We provide offers to go to the concession stands or teams shops and buy souvenirs. We are tracking all this information so we can extend the gameday experience to the middle of the week. We have our coaches involved in that. We have FoxSports Arizona involved so, again, I can't afford to put a half-page ad in the paper in Phoenix every day to compete with the Suns or Diamondbacks so I have to figure out other ways to do those things. E-mail, to me, especially to me when people have signed up and say they are interested in Sun Devils athletics, is a real effective communication tool."
Is customer support a high priority?
"Absolutely. Part of what the Devils domain.net is that we changed our whole philosophy. At Arizona State we care about the customers and reach out to our customers and figure out who our customers are. If you do a good job with customer service and reaching out to your customers, then the years you go through the 4-7 seasons it will be a little easier and you won't have all that drop-off. We have worked very hard in customer service from the time somebody pulls up and parks in their parking space to the time they walk in the gate, they are welcomed to Sun Devil Stadium, to the people at concession stands. All of those things are very important to us."
What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in college athletics over the last few years?
"Number one is the APR that the NCAA is coming out with. There are going to be academic standards, they are going to have some teeth in it. Those institutions that don't react to it are going to pay a penalty. Number two, we have to keep it in the context that college athletics is part of this university campus and not an island onto itself. I think it's important that we remember college athletics are here to serve the students, the faculty, staff, the community, but it's part of the campus community and not an enterprise within itself. I think you have to integrate those things. I talked today to the athletic staff about when you are scheduling for football and basketball and things like that, you also are worried about where your alumni base is, where you recruiting the next generations of students from so you are thinking about those things as you schedule out."
How do you bring students into the fold at a commuter school such as Arizona State, much like Middle Tennessee is?
"You sit down with them and start having focus groups. You find out what those students want to see. You bridge the gap to figure out ways you can connect the football team to the general student population. Again, you want those students when they come to those games to have a great experience, to paint themselves, enjoy themselves, be the sixth man in basketball or the 12th man in football so all those things can happen because, again, the better experience they have here as a student, the better chance you have when they leave Middle Tennessee if they are going to become a donor back."
Several of our students are non-traditional students or commuters so what are the challenges to reaching out to them and getting them involved?
"The challenges are the same as we face at Arizona State. In that same model at Arizona State, we have a graduate student section. We have graduates that want to bring their children and not necessarily their spouse for whatever reason so we have different areas we have segmented for graduate students to come and enjoy the game with their families. They are not necessarily standing up in the student section but we have recognized that as an important segment of the students and I think you have to keep communicating with those students to find out what they want and be understanding that they do have jobs. I think you have to think outside the box on some of those things but I think the students also will tell you what some of those issues are, and I think you have to continue to work with student affairs and people on campus to make it a great environment."
The other three candidates are from the Southeast. How did you come to be a candidate from all the way across the country?
"The people at (search firm) Baker-Parker called me a number of weeks ago and told me some great things about Middle Tennessee. They followed up a week later. I checked out some information with my colleagues and I started to pursue this opportunity. You have a growing university. You have a dynamic leader in President (Sidney) McPhee, a growing community and those are all things of interest to me."
Were you surprised to find the similarities you have found (between Arizona State and Middle Tennessee)?
"Not really. Once we got into it I think there's more similarities than not. Our student base at Arizona State, although we have 54,000 students, we have the main campus and two other campuses. We have the same thing. Most of our students have a full-time job. What we have tried to do at Arizona State is create the freshman year experience on campus, which is integrated with student affairs and athletics. Everybody is trying to get our kids connected to the campus as quickly as we can. The more they get connected the better our chances of keeping them retained through their sophomore year. It's a win-win."
What's your general feeling as you toured the campus?
"I am very impressed with the athletic facilities. For me it's been good to be on the campus and see everything."
Opening comment: "I'm excited about being here today. I told the search committee this is a good, strong candidate pool and I am honored to be part of it."
Unlike the other three candidates you have coaching experience in your background. How will that help you as the Athletic Director?
"I got coaching experience very intentionally when I decided at the age of 24 when I decided that being athletics director was something I wanted to be. I was women's volleyball coach at the time and what intercollegiate athletics are about is the student-athlete. There's plenty of it that's about business but we really belong to the student body because they are our major investors. My over-riding philosophy is that intercollegiate athletics has to be a tool for empowerment. That would be the reason you would invest $12.5 million in it. The first group of folks empowered by that is your student-athletes and the people who are doing that are your coaches. The 12 years I spent coaching and the chances I had to spend working with the Olympic team and work at the elite levels of sport, I think, means I understand a lot about it."
Fund-raising, marketing, ticketing is important in this search. Can you talk about your qualifications there?
"I spent 10 years involved in that type of work at the University of Kentucky. I was the senior fund-raiser. I raised dollars for an academic center, for a soccer-softball complex, for an outdoor tennis stadium, for a new football field, for a football coaches offices building. That's the major giving part of that. The other leg of the stool is going to be annual giving and the annual giving at a Middle Tennessee is going to look differently than it did at the University of Kentucky. We could do annual giving in a method that to some people looked a lot like extortion or taxation and, in fact, I had that said to me more than once when we raised priority-seating fees. In both football and men's basketball we had a tight enough ticket that we asked you to make a gift for the privilege of buying it. Annual giving that would develop here until we got there would be somewhat different. We would involve our coaches and student-athletes in trying to convince people to give us a regular gift and look at it as an investment in our program and investment in them and our future. The third leg of that stool is the whole marketing and promotions area. There's a great opportunity for promotions if you look promotional opportunities as things you get that you don't pay for. Simply because of the size of the media market, the size of it also means it's a crowded place but the size of the market opens a lot of opportunities. The marketing of programs is taking your events and making them something people want to be involved with. There's no way to decouple that from having successful programs. There's also no way I am going to stand in front of you and tell you how I am going to market any program, from women's tennis to football, without having a competitive product on the field; however, if you have a product on the field that is competitive, and I have had much experience with this at the University of Kentucky where there were years that our football program was competitive and years where we were not. I saw some of the results of things we were able to do in order to make it a fun event, involved everybody in the selling of the event, target who you are after, go after your community. To me the whole key to marketing a sporting event is targeting who you are after."
How would you go about marketing the student body in order to get them to stay on weekends and to attend games?
"It's something your Athletic Director is not going to be able to do solo. This would be something we would like at as a department-wide initiative where everybody is involved. Your best advocates for what's going on at your campus are your student-athletes and if they are not you are not going to succeed with your other students. I was just over at the baseball facility visiting with your baseball coach, Steve Peterson, and he said we had 1,500 people at the baseball game (last Tuesday) and he said 500 of them were students who were friends, classmates, girl friends of our players because our players are on this campus and people recognize them and want to support them so that would be a key place. I would ask our coaches to be involved in it. Putting together a marketing and promotions plan is very important. It's not easy but it's also not brain surgery. It is looking at the segment you are targeting, what do they like to do, when are they available and putting together some things that appeal to that group."
Coming from the University of Kentucky to Middle Tennessee where the entertainment dollar can be spread in so many places. What are the types of things you can do to address the types of challenges you would have here as opposed to Lexington where Kentucky was at the top of the list?
"It's a good question. We would have to do things that would differentiate us. I think frequently what you are seeing in college sports are we are not differentiating ourselves but we are trying to mimic. You have several pro sports in this area. What is the target segment they are reaching for and how are they appealing to it? How are we different from that and where is the segment we can go after? Part of it we can do with pricing. To be part of a professional sporting event right now is very, very expensive. Part of it we can do with access. I think parents are looking for role models for their children and athletes, rightly or wrongly, are still viewed as role models and I would expect our athletes to be role models to children so how can we get interactive ways where we can get our student-athletes to be part of public service projects in schools, in communities? Part of their role there is to market their sport."
You have strong references and contacts. Can you talk about those?
"C.M. Newton was on my list and he's one of my mentors and very close friends in the athletic administration world. He would be the person I would say raised me up in this business. He's one of the reasons I'm here today because he, along with (Sun Belt Commissioner) Wright Waters, along with Bob Hemingway, who is the Chancellor at the University of Kansas that I worked with at the University of Kentucky, all talked to me about this job and told me this was a great opportunity I should look at so I'm here."
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