High Profile Coaches Fund More Than Sports

July 1, 2001       Clint Carpenter      

People in Lubbock, Texas began clamoring the instant they realized Bobby Knight was going to be Texas Tech University’s new men’s basketball coach – flooding the season ticket office with requests.

In fact, he university’s season ticket packages doubled within 12 hours of the announcement of “The General’s” arrival.

At the University of Louisville in Kentucky, the hiring of basketball coach Rick Pitino, who sharpened his teaching chops and cemented his coaching mettle in the Blue Grass State at the University of Kentucky, has generated more than $1 million in revenues for that illustrious program.

But, excitement is expected when a high profile coach signs on. What has been happening, though, is now other areas of the schools are profiting simply based upon the reputation of an incoming coach. It’s an extraordinary marketing opportunity for the sharp development officer.

At Texas Tech, for example, between $700,000 and $800,000 has been directly attributable to Knight signing on to take over the struggling men’s basketball program. According to D’Anne Harmon, director of library development at Texas Tech, when Knight pledged $10,000 for the Texas Tech Libraries, interested donors from all over the country wrote inquiring about helping fund the library in Knight’s name.

“We definitely received some letters, and very nice letters, from people who live all over the country just sending in different amounts saying, ‘Want this to go to the library fund relative to Coach Knight, my grandnephew used to play for Coach Knight,’ or different stories like that,” said Harmon.

“I received a $10,000 check from a 76-year-old man who lives here in Lubbock,” she said “He said he heard what Coach Knight said at the press conference (when he pledged $10,000 to the library). So, he wrote a check.”

The generous man attended 11 different universities and at one point attended Indiana University, Harmon explained. “This is a guy who I never would have come across,” Harmon noted. “He hasn’t given much to TTU in the past and you would probably never know he has money.”

The library would not have seen generated any of these gifts had it not been for the hiring of Knight and his emphasis on the library.

Joseph Beyel, vice president for development and alumni at the University of Louisville, said the impact of hiring Pitino would be seen over time. Pitino hopes to impact the storied program, which suffered a difficult season by its standards, going 12-19 overall and 8-9 in Conference USA.

“It’s seen from the perspective of a commitment by the university to do things when you bring in somebody like a Pitino that they’re first rate, they’re high quality,” said Beyel. “It continues the tradition of a wonderful program – here especially at Louisville with Denny (Crum) and then to Pitino, that that tradition of high-quality, high-profile is a benefit to the whole university.”

The people in the Louisville area are feeling good about the whole university, including its athletics programs, according to Beyel. “So its sort of all boats rise with the tide. … The university is on an upswing academically and this only enhances the stature of the university. That’s how we look at that.”

Beyel predicted that people will now be giving to the university who more than likely never gave in the past due to Pitino’s appeal.

While Beyel said it’s too early to quantify the impact of Pitino’s hiring, he did add, “What it does is they (people in the area) want to become closer to a university that has this kind of quality associated with it.”

There will be an outcome as far as Pitino’s impact on other facets of fundraising at Louisville, with the athletics program already feeling the monetary force of his presence.

“He’ll raise the level, the national exposure of the university, by being on television more often and our ability at the same time to increase the quality of the academic side of the university,” said Beyel. “And it’ll get that kind of exposure and we’ll benefit longer-term.”

According to UL’s Sports Information Director Kenny Klein, people interested in obtaining lower-level arena seats in Freedom Hall has already generated $750,000. “Well, it’s about $100,000 to be able to purchase two lower arena seats so I mean that’s not a whole lot of people there,” Klein said.

UL Men’s Basketball attendance has ranked in the top five the past 15 years at the NCAA Division I level. To become a new season ticket holder in the lower level of the arena $100,000 must be donated to be able to purchase tickets. There have been more than 2,000 requests for season tickets at the already packed arena, said Klein.

“In addition to that, we’re starting some renovations on our practice facilities. Nearly all of the renovations, including replacing our practice floor, which has a price tag of about $230,000, every bit of that will be through donations – that’s complete outside money,” said Klein.

It’s all money generated in the month after Pitino was inked as the new head coach.

“Easily a million plus dollars; in either cash or something that can be attributed to a trade,” he said. Of course, Klein added, some of the donated cash may be extended over a period of time (5 to 10 years is some cases).

In December, 1999, Lou Holtz took the reigns of the South Carolina Gamecock football program that had just come off a 1-10 season. The program was overwhelmed with fan support, but mired in mediocrity and lacking the ability to recruit talented student-athletes.

Although Holtz struggled out of the gates with a record of 0-11, he has not only turned around the football program; he’s spurred giving to the university’s Gamecock Club.

Jeff Barber, executive director of the Gamecock Club, attributes a $400,000 increase in giving to the club in Holtz’s first full year at the university. And as for this year Barber said, “At this point we’re nearly $700,000 ahead – we’re at $9.3 million.”

With an 8-4 record in 2000, and Holtz firmly taking hold of the Gamecock program, Barber said season ticket sales have risen too, reaching nearly 55,000 for the 80,250-seat stadium for the 2001 season – up 3,000 from the year before.

Moreover, membership to the Gamecock Club has catapulted by 1,800 to more than 13,000 boosters. The minimum level of giving to the booster club is $150 annually and the highest is $12,000, Barber noted.

“The other impact is that season tickets have gone way up and we’re expected a record year in season tickets this year. So that’s an economic impact for us this year, as well,” said Barber.