"Re-branding was one of our first initiatives," said Buskirk. "It sounds like a simple thing, but it gets fans excited, and solidifies who we are as an athletic department.
Along with the design of the new official athletics logos, Tech also moved forward with the development of the new athletic department website. The website, contracted to CBS, launched in January with added online functions such as online auctions, digital downloads, and fan involvement content. It also serves as a revenue source, with an increased area for advertisement space, and other revenue functions. (Visit Tech Athletics online at www.latechsports.com.)
"The re-branding efforts have already shown great dividends, with an increase in merchandise distribution (TechTeamShop.com), increased traffic and revenues from the new website, record season ticket sales, increased memberships in LTAC, and an overall increased excitement about who we are as an athletic department," said Buskirk.
Tech Team Shop, a new online retailer of officially licensed Louisiana Tech products, has contributed a significant amount of revenue as a corporate sponsor for Tech Athletics, and is expected to help to increase the University's licensing royalties. The website has a very large inventory of high quality Louisiana Tech gear and fans can also buy merchandise in downtown Ruston inside Mitchell's Compounding Pharmacy.
"Our next initiative after we started the re-branding efforts was to advance our corporate sponsorship department," said Buskirk.
In one year, total corporate sponsorships at Tech have gone from $425,000 to $1.3 million. The advancement in the corporate sponsorship department will also continue moving forward, as Learfield Sports has been contracted to operate LA Tech Sports properties. Mason Ellenberger, General Manager of LA Tech Sports Properties, along with two other full-time employees, will be working out of the External Affairs office in the TAC.
"By tripling our corporate sponsorships this past year, and now signing Learfield Sports, we have made major advancements in our overall athletics department," explained Buskirk. With this increased revenue, Louisiana Tech will soon install a much-anticipated state-of-the-art video board for football. The video board, which may be as big as or bigger than any in the WAC or Conference USA, will drastically enhance Louisiana Tech's game day experience.
The advancements don't stop there. Season tickets for football reached an all-time high in 2008.
"A high percentage of those were online and we would like that figure to be higher every year. We would like to have 80% of our ticket sales be online; it's better for everyone," said Buskirk. In order to advance the ticket sales department, Tech is evaluating ticketing software companies. "We hope to have a new system in place by March; it will dramatically help all of our ticket sales efforts," Buskirk said.
Louisiana Tech is also developing a comprehensive advertising plan. "We are going to be more strategic in our approach," said Buskirk. "From radio, television, billboards and print ads to our website and mailout solicitations; everything will be developed using a strategic approach."
Buskirk also said it's important to expand Tech's fan base outside of Ruston. Fans can easily come to basketball games from an hour away and some football fans regularly travel from four or five hours away. Most of the football fans are currently still coming from a one-hour radius, but the athletic department plans to change that, and expand Tech's reach.
Markets in central Louisiana, eastern Texas, and southern Arkansas are all areas into which Tech looks to expand. Many Tech graduates live in cities like Dallas, Houston, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, as well.
Two recent changes will help fundraising. Tech has seen significant improvements in LTAC (athletics fundraising club) since the change from CHAMPS. Also in the area of fundraising, a new group called Team Tech 100 was established, and will be a major revenue stream for Tech athletics. Team Tech 100 is a select group of elite support level donors.
Another fundraising campaign, the ATAC plan, was spearheaded by Karl Malone. The TAC floor was completely replaced and renovations to the concourse are underway. In addition, the locker rooms, coaches' offices, and meeting rooms were all renovated in the past year. The next phase could be premium seating – it's currently in the evaluation stage.
Joe Aillet stadium has also been upgraded with a power-washing, new paint, and new banners that have helped change the environment. All were very positive additions, along with the new Argent Pavilion, sponsored by the Alumni Foundation and Argent Financial Group, located between the TAC and Joe Aillet Stadium.
Another positive change to the game day atmosphere is the Aramark concession contract. Aramark is already running concessions for football games and will start this year for basketball. "They are just warming up," added Buskirk. "Next year, Aramark will have advanced equipment and increased selections."
Along with all these great projects, Derek Dooley and administration are working on a massive athletic facility master plan that will encompass all sports. Some of the new facilities in the plan are very impressive and will tremendously enhance the overall athletic program. Funding will come from multiple sources and the plans will be released soon.
Louisiana Tech fans will have a hard time remembering how things used to be after this administration is finished. Derek Dooley, Bruce Van De Velde and Eric Buskirk, along with their great staff, really are changing the face of Tech Athletics. Hard workers like Adam McGuirt, Leah Beasley, Jenna Stuppy, and Mason Ellenberger are the right staff members to have in place and will help continue to enhance every aspect of Tech Athletics.
Fans can already see the changes taking place with the facilities and on the football field. Tech's win over Mississippi State showed that we can attract BCS teams to Ruston and compete with them as well. In basketball, both the Dunkin' Dawgs and the Lady Techsters will re-establish themselves as national programs. The new staffs and new players for both teams will bring more energy to the TAC than fans have seen in a long time.
These really are great times for Louisiana Tech University.
• New logos and website • Advancements to fundraising (LTAC and Team Tech 100) • Tripled corporate sponsorships and formation of Learfield Sports partnership • Improved merchandise distribution (TechTeamShop.com) • Record numbers of season ticket sales and improved operations • Major facility renovations (football stadium, basketball facility, track and tennis) • Improved concessions (partnership with Aramark)