The Business Side

Former associate athletics director Rannah Gray offers an inside look at the LSU Athletic Department in a new column for TigerRag.

Editor's Note: Upon interviewing Rannah Gray following her retirement from LSU, I began to discuss the possibility of having her write a column for Tiger Rag based upon her knowledge the business side of college sports. Specifically, we discussed her ability to provide insight on some of the decisions - whether popular or unpopular - made at LSU concerning sports. She readily agreed and has submitted her first installment. I think her frankness and knowledge will make for an interesting. What's more, she invites you the reader to ask her the tough questions. - Greg LaRose

The Business Side

By Rannah Gray 


Sometimes you have to leave a place where you feel really comfortable to spread your wings… improve… accomplish greater things. I won't say it's easy, but that's exactly what I just did. After 12½ years with the LSU Athletic Department, ten as Associate Athletic Director, I've decided to start my own company, developing marketing campaigns on a national level.


Coach Bertman says there probably aren't 20 people in the country with the experience I have in marketing college sports. When you consider how many are women, you can count us on one hand. And so I leave LSU, where I also earned two degrees, only with great memories of the things we were able to accomplish together, and friends I'll have for life.


I think the thing that surprised the editor of this magazine most was that I have no hard feelings toward the fans who question and criticize decisions made by LSU. When interviewing me after I announced I was leaving, he kept easing up on the subject, politely asking how I felt when some of our decisions were attacked.


Maybe he expected me to say that the things I won't miss are the radio call-in shows, the phone calls, the letters, the visits, and the Web sites – all teeming with fans who believe their lives will be ruined if they park in a different parking lot than they're accustomed to on seven days out of the year. Can you imagine anyone feeling that way about the local mall? Their favorite restaurant? Their place of worship?


I think he expected me to say I wouldn't miss the letters from the man asking us to sell burial plots in Tiger Stadium, using cup holders on chairbacks for the urns of those who wished to be cremated.


Or the meeting with the doctor who counted how many steps he took from his motor home to Gate 5 of Tiger Stadium and felt it was important that did not change.


Or the long-time fan who visited me to complain that the singer at a basketball game didn't sing the national anthem at the proper tempo.


Or the legislator who balked at parking behind the PMAC because he couldn't see Tiger Stadium when he stepped out of his car.


Or the local dentist who sits at his computer in his underwear e-mailing vitriol about how women are ruining sports. 


You see, I believe it's a good thing that our fans feel so passionately about LSU. Actually, a great thing. We should worry if they ever stop caring that much. 


I've always thought that's what separates good teams from great teams – the passion and enthusiasm of their fans. Athletic department staffs are just caretakers of a precious treasure. The fans are the investors. During my tour of duty, the fans were what ensured that every side was heard, every decision weighed carefully. And then, someone somewhere has to make a decision on what is best for LSU. If that decision changes someone's world in the least little bit, that's where the trouble starts.  Because even after all that, there will be those who are rankled because someone changed their comfort zone.


Some fans want familiarity and control in their lives. If they don't have it with their families or jobs, then by God let them have it with their favorite team. And if they do have it at home, then they're accustomed to it and expect it even more.


In short, they want their team -- and everything associated with it – to be the way they want it to be. Period. Which is OK, except when there are hundreds of thousands of fans with hundreds of thousands of comfort zones.


Like it or not, I think we all agree that college sports are big business. The purpose of this column is to explore, explain, discuss, and debate the business side of sports, and LSU in particular. Where we go will depend in large part on you.


Send me the topics you'd like covered, and I'll do my best to provide some information that will help you better understand the business of college sports. Don't bother asking me about decisions that are made on the field, court or diamond.  While I enjoy that part as much as you, I'm much more qualified to discuss things like the new logo, decisions for televising games or how the arms race in facility construction is rapidly changing the landscape.


So whatever your interest is, let me hear from you. If you didn't believe all these years that I worked for you…try to make yourself believe it now.


Maybe we'll help some people feel better about the decisions that are made. And maybe we'll make some people uncomfortable. That's OK. Sometimes a little heat is good for you.


Believe me. I just got off the grill myself. 


Send Rannah your questions or comments for The Business Side and look for answers and feedback in upcoming columns.

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