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Rice Athletics Summit page
Alumni outwit consulting firm, move to shore up Rice Athletics...look.gif (159 bytes)
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Summit organizer Mike Ecklund:  'If I don't, who will?'

 

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Rice AD May:   "Probably eighty per cent of the schools in Division 1A have an annual deficit. It’s a matter, though, of how much that deficit is"

 

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R-Man Mark Bockeloh: Alumni giving data will be analyzed

 

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CUSA Commissioner Banowsky:  "Rice is a really good fit for the conference"

 

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Long-time supporter, attorney Bob Schlanger:   Resources already exist

 

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Associate AD for Development Olympia Ammon:  Board is raising the bar

 

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R-Man, patent lawyer Kent Rowald:  Time to get on the phone

Major fundraising,
attendance efforts
necessary for Rice,
conferees told

HOUSTON (April 9) – It’s 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. It’s a matter, though, of how much that deficit is."

Rice’s intercollegiate athletics expenditures have been relatively flat since 2002, the AD pointed out. Such was the case, in fact, during years when Rice’s athletics programs have been the most successful in the Western Athletics Conference, considering top-to-bottom performance and results. "We’ve held the line, when it comes to costs," May added. "In fact, if we were getting a conference share this year – which we’re not, because that’s a penalty we pay for leaving the WAC – our deficit would be less this year than it was in 2002."

"At Rice, that’s where the problem is. We simply are not generating the revenue to support the programs that we’ve 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 Rice’s $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, didn’t need singling out. That was the total figure spent on sports marketing. Last year, it was $120,000.00.

"That’s for all sports," he noted. "It’s a drop in the bucket. And we’ve been very limited, because of that, in what we’ve been able to do.

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, that’s going to make a huge, huge impact." Mike said. "It’s 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, we’re planning a military salute," Pede noted, "with armed forces attendance, flyovers; we’re 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 we’re staying away from referring to any game as ‘Operation Sellout’."

"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 we’d had in 20 years – and all the media people would talk about was that we had 17,000 no-shows."

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, Rice’s 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 that’s 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 support.

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, Rice’s 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. That’s 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 we’re trying to do is create a competitive environment that’s 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 you’ve 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 weren’t 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 that’s going to change quickly, starting this fall."

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 that’s 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, it’s 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.

"We’ve presented a number of things that we believe would provide a positive impetus for Rice athletics," he observed. "But there’s no way we think that we’ve 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. We’ve 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, don’t forget to get out your checkbook.

"I like Mike Ecklund’s 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 haven’t – because you wouldn’t 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 you’re a letterwinner, have you paid your dues? If you’re 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 we’ve generated, or will generate," Mike said, "if we don’t turn those ideas into action, then they’re absolutely worthless."

"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 it’s pertinent to what we’re trying to accomplish here. On many occasions, he’d stand in front of us, and tell us to ask ourselves, ‘If I don’t, who will?’"

"I think that’s perfect here. If we don’t, who will? If we don’t fight for Rice athletics, who will? If we don’t attend sporting events, who will? If we don’t 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
  Webletter Editor

More Rice Athletic Summit photos....

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Crowd filled all of central hall and east wing of R-Room

 

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After speakers came time for Q&A -- that's co-organizer Michol Ecklund in (not burnt) orange

 

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Reps of student body rally groups were well in evidence

 

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Crowd spilled over into bar area

 

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Rice AD Bobby May delivers his "State of the Institute" address

 

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