College Athletic Officers Open New Playbook for Stadium Planning

By Carolyn Braff

For college athletic departments planning or renovating a facility, the stalling economy has put a major crimp in the process. At the IMG Intercollegiate Athletic Forum this week in New York, representatives from colleges across the country discussed the challenges of building revenue-generating arenas, and the necessity of weighing the wishes of outside broadcasters with those of season-ticket holders during the planning process.

Before they can worry about the engineering expertise necessary to run any new video equipment that they purchase, athletic departments must find funding for their video systems. Some schools, including the University of Tennessee and UCLA, have included capital improvements in their bundled multimedia-rights agreements, putting the onus on those rightsholders to bring that revenue to the table.

“ISP purchased our LED improvements to Pauley Pavilion,” said Ross Bjork, senior associate athletic director for external relations at UCLA. “Capital improvements that benefit the rightsholder are in place all over.”

With multimedia-rights deals moving from three- to five-year terms to 10 years and longer, the cost of amenities like video boards and control rooms can be amortized over the longer terms, providing more opportunities for athletic departments to make those changes.

“Long-term deals allow sponsors to invest in things like video boards,” said Tom Stultz, SVP and managing director of IMG College. “The latest thing that we’re in is discussions to provide stadium financing. We’re in talks with the city of Lincoln and the University of Nebraska for our funding a new downtown arena and paying for it out of marketing dollars. If we build a new baseball stadium, we have to sell it, or we have to pay for it.”

Athletic-department executives were split on the importance of getting the opinion of national broadcasters who might be producing games from the new venue. For schools at which every men’s-basketball game is guaranteed to be televised, considering the needs of those broadcasters is obviously more important than it is at schools where the national media descends only a handful of times each season.

“I think that, when you’re trying to do something, you figure out who does it best and steal from them,” explained Jon Oliver, executive associate athletic director at the University of Virginia. “I went to every single NBA arena and spent time with their video people. We built a system we thought would best satisfy our fans and drive revenue for us.”

Whereas the University of Virginia was less focused on the needs of network broadcasters than on those of its own fans who will be purchasing tickets inside the arena, the University of Illinois took a different approach.

“We definitely benchmarked, but we also brought in ABC and ESPN,” explained Warren Hood, associate athletic director at the University of Illinois. “We brought people in from New York to give us the technological side of things. Especially with the Big Ten Network as part of what we do, it’s obviously important for us to work with the Big Ten Network as far as production is concerned, so we wanted to make sure we got all aspects of the network-television piece of it.”

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