Part 2: “Gone To Another Level”

In Wednesday’s first of this two-part, question-and-answer talk, athletic director Scott Stricklin discussed the impact and benefits from the record $31 million SEC disbursement to Mississippi State. He also explained details of the new cost of attendance policy for athletic scholarships.

Stricklin also proudly noted that Mississippi State “brought in more to the SEC bowl distribution” than any other conference club after playing in the Orange Bowl.

Today’s second part covers a wider range of topics; record football season ticket sales for 2015, filling the gap in the 2016 schedule, the new baseball stadium project’s funding and timing, and ideas for dressing-up Humphrey Coliseum with revived enthusiasm for Bulldog basketball.

DB: Turning to ticket sales, the latest figures were over 46,500? Stricklin: “Right about there. We’ve got another three months to go and obviously already a record. We pulled back what we give our visitors. Alabama used to get 7,000. They’re getting 5,000 this year so that opens up some inventory. We could get over 50,000, I hope we can get there this year but whenever we fully sell-out we’ be over 50,000. That’s a great number for us to shoot for, whether it happens this year or down the road. It’s a great credit to our fans and the way they’ve stepped up and supported our program. And it’s a great credit to our players and coaches for providing a successful team our coaches enjoy watching.”

“Again I’d love to sell out like we were before expansion and pulling back on visiting tickets. If we get to that point for a few years we’ll start looking at the next phase of what we do with Davis Wade Stadium.”

DB: What might be on football’s wish-list now, what is next? “There are some little things. I don’t know if there are any big ticket items out there. Right now we’re starting to look at a feasibility study on does it make sense to really spend a lot of money on the Fieldhouse at the south end of the stadium? Or are we within a decade of building a new structure down there, and how much do you want to invest short-term?”

“So there’s some things, like game day lockers. You ask yourself what makes the most sense. But Dan is not a guy that constantly wants the new shiny toy. He wants what we need to be successful. I think for the most part he feels we’ve got a lot of those piece in place. We’re going to add a new full-time staff member in the recruiting office for football.”

DB: About football scheduling, you’ve said there was a sense the Tulane home game would not happen. What progress is being made on filling that 2016 date? “There was some anticipation that might happen. We’ll have something lined up fairly shortly, that will be a FBS opponent from bowl-eligibility standpoint. I’m not confident we’ll be able to get seven home games because of the late notice.”

“Before 2009 we’d never had seven home games. Since then we’ve only had one year we did not (2013). After 2016 for the foreseeable future, unless somebody backs out, we’re set-up to have seven home games. That’s obviously our preference. We’ve got a chance to get that locked-up fairly shortly and do it in such a way I think it makes sense.”

DB: Is it safe now to schedule so far ahead, not just from opponents being bought-out but future TV broadcast scheduling demands? “The answer to your question is yes…but you don’t really have a choice. Or else you get caught with nobody to work with to fill out a schedule.”

“We’re working into the mid-2020s right now on games. The latest we have a contract for right now is that 2023 Arizona game. But we’re talking to people beyond that and you don’t have much choice.”

DB: Looking at schedule site projections, Louisiana Tech shows multiple games after the 2016 game? “We have a two-for-one with them, and then they still owe us a game. We’re trying to spread those out where we don’t play each other four-straight years. Where both fan bases still want to play them.”

DB: Might we see another season-opening neutral site game such as in Houston two years ago? “We don’t have any of those right now. One of the challenges there is it hurts your ability to get to seven home games. If we made the decision six is where we want to be on home games it would be a lot easier to play those games. But we’ve invested a lot in Davis Wade Stadium. Our fans have invested a lot not only in the stadium but weekends in town. And any time we can give the fans an opportunity to come have a home weekend, we need to do that.”

DB: The SEC-CBS contract runs through when, the mid-2020s? “It runs until about 2023. ESPN got twenty years so we’re at least past 2030 with them. Those look pretty settled.”

DB: You brought up the baseball stadium project. Is the June 2016 start some suggest realistic? “That’s never been something we’ve been married to. Yes, it could happen then, it still could. I don’t feel strongly one way or the other what the likelihood of that is.”

”We’re still working schematics with designers and have a lot of work to go on that front. We have our July 31 deadline for seat deposits, for initial payments to come in and for people to let us know what their intention is. So there’s a lot of unknowns still from that standpoint. My guess is that by the end of this calendar year we’ll have a much better feel for all of that; the design, how long construction may take, and what the actual scope and size of everything will be.”

“And we’ll have more time for fundraising. You know, we have a lot of people now who made commitments to the Seal Complex project that are coming out of those commitments. I’m talking several-million dollar commitments and pledges. A large number of those people have indicated they want to jump into the baseball project and be a part of that. Our Bulldog Club has been busy the last few weeks and will be the rest of this year having those conversations.”

“It’s going to happen. When it’s going to happen I couldn’t tell you, but it’s not a question of if. It’s just when. And our goal hasn’t changed, to make it the showpiece of college baseball. That’s something that Mississippi State needs to have.”

DB: Capacity cannot be set until design and funding is finalized? “Right. But seats are different from capacity, as you know. The intent is for the capacity to be similar to what we currently have.”

DB: Each few days State announces another round of deposits, so the interest remains steady? “It is. And I’ve talked to so many people anecdotally that say yeah, I just haven’t sent my stuff in, I know the deadline is in July. So I think the next two months will be a lot of activity.”

“I get seats by being a staff member here. But I personally am going to buy some chairback seats so I have them in my name. There’s four I know right there we can add to the total!”

DB: Do you have a rough idea of the final cost, usually stated at $40 million? “I don’t. And that’s just kind of a guesstimate. We’re going to make sure we do it right. We’re also going to make sure we make good financial decisions.”

DB: You mentioned at Big Dawg stops some ideas for Humphrey Coliseum. What are you thinking about, especially with the enthusiasm over Ben Howland’s hiring? “There’s a need to enhance the concourse and fan areas. The concessions and restrooms are ‘inboard’ right underneath the seating bowl. I envision pushing out the concourse side walls and building large open spaces with concessions and restrooms outside those.”

“Then maybe you can put some premium spaces that poke through that white wall of the seating bowl. My personal opinion is the seat capacity of the Hump is a good size. When our fan base is engaged, there is a good demand on tickets, it feels really intimate. I love that size. But watching a game in the Hump is about as good as it is. The seats hug the court and are close. I sit in the upper deck and it’s a great seat. There’s not a bad seat in that place.”

“For something that was built when it was built (1975) it has held up far better than any facility built in that era, as far as watching basketball. And the enhancements we’ve done have helped that.”

DB: Something miss-understood is that despite the last few seasons, the seats were selling? “Yes, our sales dropped a little bit but we were at 5,000 season ticket sales. So it wasn’t a huge drop-off there. But I’m more focused on how we enhance the fan coming in, walking around the concourse, getting concessions.”

“To me, the exterior is a little dated. I know it’s iconic in some ways because it’s been there so long! But how can we not lose that and enhance it, update it a little bit while we’re renovating areas that touch the fans. The Mize Pavilion has been unbelievable, Ben and Vic (Schaefer) sing its praises. We spent over a million dollars 18 months ago to renovate the locker rooms. The areas that touch our student-athletes and coaches are in really good shape. And it’s a great place to watch a basketball game. My concern is when we have 10,000 people in the Hump and at halftime people are trying to get a hot dog or go to the rest room. That’s not an ideal situation.”

“But you know what? I was at Cameron Indoor for the women’s (NCAA) Tournament and the concourse space at the Hump is luxurious compared to them. I don’t know how they get 9,000 people in there and I can’t imagine halftime is a very pleasant experience! But we want our entire game day experience to be pleasant so we need to enhance some of those areas.”

DB: When did an athletic director’s job go from setting schedules and hiring coaches to overseeing the quality of student-athletes’ lives and enhancing game-day experiences for fans! But that is the reality of your job now? “It is. It’s always been there. And we’re blessed. We have resources that candidly my predecessors never dreamed of.”

“Part of that is the enterprise of college athletics has never been more popular. Part of that is we’re experiencing success on a high, high level. We’re graduating more Mississippi State people with degrees than ever before. So that population wants to come back and be a part of it. Obviously the TV dollars and bowl dollars are at a level that no one ever expected to be.

“So it allows you go focus on some of those things. And you can invest. We’ve expanded our marketing and video area. Dani Smith’s focus is going to be customer engagement, part of the Maroon Memories thing and allowing people on the field to meet coaches and players. Finding ways to engage with our fans on a one-on-one level.”

“Twenty years ago you don’t even think about something like that. Now the whole enterprise is gone to another level.”

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