|Rice Athletics Summit
Alumni outwit consulting
firm, move to shore up Rice Athletics...
Summit organizer Mike Ecklund: 'If I don't, who
Rice AD May: "Probably eighty per cent
of the schools in Division 1A have an annual deficit. Its a matter, though, of how
much that deficit is"
R-Man Mark Bockeloh: Alumni giving data will be analyzed
CUSA Commissioner Banowsky: "Rice is a really
good fit for the conference"
Long-time supporter, attorney Bob Schlanger:
Resources already exist
Associate AD for Development Olympia Ammon: Board
is raising the bar
R-Man, patent lawyer Kent Rowald: Time to get on
necessary for Rice,
HOUSTON (April 9) Its all about the revenue.
The was the message driven home by Rice University Athletic Director Bobby May
and assorted Rice athletics staffers, interested alumni and student leaders, garnished by
remarks from the Commissioner of Conference USA, at a specially- called Rice Athletics
Summit held at the Rice Stadium R-Room here Saturday.
A near-capacity crowd of some 200 Rice supporters listened to words of encouragement as
well as exhortations of necessity and calls to action by the assembled speakers, and after
about three hours of same, dispersed and regathered into "Breakout Sessions"
which took names of volunteers, sold tickets, distributed promotional materials, and
generally thumped the tub.
The meeting initially was organized by Mike Ecklund (94) and his wife,
Michol (97), a Rice football "R"-Man and former cheerleader, respectively,
who assembled a core group of ten supporters who then set about to tackle the myriad of
issues facing Rice athletics administrators by first dividing problems into categories
such as Rice Culture, Communications, Fundraising, and Marketing.
Representatives of each of those subgroupings gave their spiels to the assembly,
but before that, the long-time Rice Athletic Director came on to deliver what could be
termed his "State of the Institute" address.
Plenty of bang, but not enough bucks
In a nutshell, May said, Rice is getting plenty of bang out its athletics bucks,
but not nearly enough athletics bucks to bang.
"Revenue is the root cause of the problem," he told the group.
"Probably eighty per cent of the schools in Division 1A have an annual deficit.
Its a matter, though, of how much that deficit is."
Rices intercollegiate athletics expenditures have been relatively flat
since 2002, the AD pointed out. Such was the case, in fact, during years when Rices
athletics programs have been the most successful in the Western Athletics Conference,
considering top-to-bottom performance and results. "Weve held the line, when it
comes to costs," May added. "In fact, if we were getting a conference share this
year which were not, because thats a penalty we pay for leaving the WAC
our deficit would be less this year than it was in 2002."
"At Rice, thats where the problem is. We simply are not generating
the revenue to support the programs that weve got."
NCAA statistics show that BCS football programs generate a minimum of $4 million
gross income annually, with behemoth programs such as Texas, Michigan and Notre Dame going
all the way up to $23 million. "Compare that to Rices $1.4 million," Bobby
said. "Those are meaningful numbers that go a long way to tell the story. We need to
grow our top line, and put more people in the stadium."
Rice sports marketing personnel are fighting a tight fight with a short stick,
expenditure records indicated. Coach May pulled down bar charts showing overhead figures
for the athletic department for recent fiscal years, and projected pro formas for 05
and 06. One figure May pointed to, didnt need singling out. That was the total
figure spent on sports marketing. Last year, it was $120,000.00.
"Thats for all sports," he noted. "Its a drop in the
bucket. And weve been very limited, because of that, in what weve been able to
Later in the program, Rice sports marketing director Mike Pede mentioned several
ideas that Rice promotion officials have in mind to increase visibility of Rice athletics
in the community.
Without much in the way of cash to stage massive media marketing campaigns, the
plan is to utilize a more person- to- person approach and that approach includes
you, dear reader.
Showing the flag in the Village
Starting with football season this fall, expect the Rice-Medical
Center-Southampton-Village area to be more evidently festooned with signs, banners, flags,
and other public expressions of support. Local merchants are being enlisted in the
campaign, and in addition, Pede rolled out boxes containing 500 white car flags with the
familiar, blue-grey flying Owl. He wants to distribute 1,500 of them in all, including
free handouts for those driving into the stadium lot for the Owls first home game of
the fall against Navy.
"If you put it on your car, say, Wednesday before a Saturday home football
game, thats going to make a huge, huge impact." Mike said. "Its
probably going to have more impact than announcements on KTRH or an ad in the paper."
Special promotional plans for the fall campaign, Pede added, focus on the Navy
and Tulsa games. An Armed Forces Appreciation Day is planned for the home opener Sept. 24
against Navy. "With Navy, were planning a military salute," Pede noted,
"with armed forces attendance, flyovers; were trying to get President Bush 41
involved, fireworks after the game."
"It will have a lot of the features that our prior Operation Sellout games
had, but were staying away from referring to any game as Operation
"What took the cake, before, was when we had an Operation Sellout, and
53,000 people showed up at the stadium it was the largest crowd wed had in 20
years and all the media people would talk about was that we had 17,000
Also, with the help of MOB director Chuck Throckmorton, who was present at the
meeting, a large-scale Band Day is being planned, most likely the day of the Tulsa game.
This time, 20 to 30 area high school bands will attend and compete against each other
earlier in the day for the prize of marching during halftime.
Conspicuously absent was any mention of home games being diverted to Reliant
Stadium. That includes, apparently, Rices annual Bayou Bucket tilt with cross-town
rival U of H.
"U of H chose to put their home game with us next year in Robertson Stadium
on the Saturday after Thanksgiving -- but thats their problem," Pede quipped.
Speakers paint challenging picture
The earlier part of the program featured several speakers who focused on
different aspects of the conundrum. Long-time athletics supporter and local attorney Bob
Schlanger spoke on Rice Culture, reviewing the various alumni and student organizations
extant which might be a more potent source for manpower, and both fiscal and physical
Former Owl footballer and local patent attorney Kent Rowald spoke on
Communications, detailing efforts which will be made to increase the size of mailing
lists, donor lists, and, one would hope, season-ticket holder lists.
Another former Owl football star, Mark Bockeloh, teamed with Olympia Ammon,
Rices recently- tenured Associate Athletic Director for Development, to review
current and anticipated fundraising efforts.
Ms. Ammon might not have been Delphic-Oracle-like in her prescience, but she
came armed with some sobering news, courtesy of the Rice Board of Trustees.
Fundraising targets for the Owl Club and other Rice athletics support
organizations have been raised considerably by the Board in the last couple of fiscal
years in the range of 25 per cent, she noted. Thats far above the usual and
typical five or six per cent annual increase posited by most fundraising organizations.
Mark pointed out that the Board of Trustees, when last May endorsing
continuation of Rice athletics at the present level, but with approved funding, was
swayed, in large part, and at least for the moment, by the speight of e-mails and letters
promising a more ardent level of financial support.
Now, it seems, Owl fans are under the microscope. "The Board has let us
know that alumni giving data will be analyzed to see how many new athletics donors, and
how many increased donations, will show up for fiscal year 05," Bockeloh
pointed out. "But beyond that, if you wrote a letter, and mentioned increasing your
giving level, you can expect that your giving level will be reviewed by the Board."
Amid such air of foreboding by the way, thanks for your unequivocal
expression of support, Trustees how about some good news, for a change?
Well, actually there was some, and it came in the form of brief remarks by
current CUSA Commissioner Britton Banowsky.
New league affiliation will boost revenue
"Conference USA fits for Rice," he told the crowd, "and I think
Rice is really a good fit for the conference. One of the big challenges a university like
Rice has, is being in a meaningful competitive environment. What were trying to do
is create a competitive environment thats a good fit; where good students can easily
get from their competition back to class; where fans can travel;where rivalries can be
created -- between people who care a lot about their schools."
"We want to make the other members of the conference receptive to the Rice
approach, and the things youve been trying to here, and in fact have been so
successful in accomplishing."
All that, plus $3.75, will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks, but AD
May pointed out that membership in Conference USA will reap immediate benefits in terms of
media exposure and the revenues to be derived therefrom.
"The Western Athletic Conference was really not a good situation for
television appearances at all," May admitted. "We just werent on TV nearly
often enough, and the league was so dispersed that it was hard to generate any kind of
television audience. But all of thats going to change quickly, starting this
Commissioner Banowsky pointed out that CUSA, in football, will feature its first
championship playoff game this December, and beyond that, possesses five bowl tie-ins.
"We think thats just about the right number," he added.
So can Rice make to one of those five bowl games, some seven short months from
now? Well, at least part of the answer appears to reside with the person reading this
tome. While the Feathered Flock is wrapping up spring football drills this coming week,
including, its been said, the implementation of a new, virtually wholly revamped
offense, Summit organizer Mike Ecklund said the machinations behind the scene will kick
off right away, but need more input.
"Weve presented a number of things that we believe would provide a
positive impetus for Rice athletics," he observed. "But theres no way we
think that weve come up with an end-all, be-all. The things that have been talked
about today are, as much as anything, an attempt to draw out the input of our supporters.
Weve got to come up with a lot of ideas, and develop a lot more participation, in
order to make a meaningful difference."
Toward such end, almost immediately, volunteers will commence making phone
solicitations, local merchants will be contacted, new marketing campaigns will be
formalized, and oh, dont forget to get out your checkbook.
"I like Mike Ecklunds quote from the Chronicle article that M.K.
(Bower) wrote," Bobby May told the group. "That for years, people who supported
it came to take the program for granted. Now, clearly, people in this room havent
because you wouldnt be here if you did. But a lot of people have."
"As a consequence, we need to get the word out, that we need the support of
people who care about Rice, and Rice athletics. We need more manpower, in the form of more
volunteers; we need student support; we need community support."
"How about if you just ask yourself if youre a letterwinner,
have you paid your dues? If youre interested in Rice athletics at all, are you in
the Owl Club? If you are in the Owl Club, are you giving at a level that is as meaningful
as it could be, if you really pushed and tried hard?"
Mike Ecklund had a parting exhortation of his own, but he noted that the words
were not of his authorship.
"With the ideas that weve generated, or will generate," Mike
said, "if we dont turn those ideas into action, then theyre absolutely
"When I played football here from 1990 to 94, Fred Goldsmith was our
coach. He was a different kind of guy....but there was one thing that he used to say, over
and over again, that has really stuck with me, and I think its pertinent to what
were trying to accomplish here. On many occasions, hed stand in front of us,
and tell us to ask ourselves, If I dont, who will?"
"I think thats perfect here. If we dont, who will? If we
dont fight for Rice athletics, who will? If we dont attend sporting events,
who will? If we dont donate to the program, who will?"
"For us to have the type of impact we want to have on Rice athletics, a lot
of people need to act, to lead, and to follow through."
--Paul T. Hlavinka
More Rice Athletic Summit
Crowd filled all of central hall and east wing of R-Room
After speakers came time for Q&A -- that's co-organizer Michol Ecklund in (not burnt)
Reps of student body rally groups were well in evidence
Crowd spilled over into bar area
Rice AD Bobby May delivers his "State of the Institute" address