Jimmy Bass Speaks to the Bulldog Community

Jimmy Bass, Mississippi State's new Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Development and Marketing, has enthusiasm, and, more importantly, ideas - ideas that he has personally seen work while at North Carolina State.

The first thing I asked Jimmy Bass when I spoke to him was why he decided to leave North Carolina State, a place where he seem to be doing really well, to take on the task of fund-raising and marketing the Bulldog sports program. Jimmy, a very enthusiastic person, had a quick answer.

"Things that attracted me to the Mississippi State situation was the opportunity here and the people," said Jimmy. "The timing here is just like it was at NC State six years ago."

And it's not just the similarities in athletics, but the universities themselves.

"Both schools are very similar in other ways," continued Jimmy. "Both are great land-grant institutions. Both market themselves as the people's university. Both are science and technology based. Both feel like they are the engine that drives the economies within their respected states. The schools are unbelievably similar."

I asked Jimmy why he felt Mississippi State is similar to how North Carolina State was six years ago.

"NC State had just hired Chuck Amato as its head football coach," said Jimmy. "It was right after Florida State had beaten Virginia Tech for the national championship and I remember him standing up at his press conference and saying that we will compete for a national championship. People exploded at that comment.

"Mississippi State is so similar to NC State because Coach Croom has come here and raised the expectation levels. The Mississippi State fans expect to compete at the highest level. They expect to compete for a Southeastern Conference Championship. And expect to compete, down the road, for a national championship. That's good. That's really good."

Jimmy was one of those people that exploded. In fact, he was so excited he asked to switch jobs so that he could help Amato achieve his goal.

"One of the reasons I moved over to the Wolfpack Club from the Alumni Association was due to the decision by the Board of Directors of the Wolfpack Club to spend a hundred million dollars on the football facilities," he said. "That was a hundred million dollars in three phases."

Jimmy explained the three phases and how they were financed.

"Phase one was a 110,000 square foot football facility. That included a new practice complex, a new video scoreboard, 6,000 new seats in the south endzone, design services on a new pressbox. We ended up generating it by selling lifetime seat rights which are similar to PSLs in the NFL. What a Wolfpack donor has to do to guarantee that they have the same football seat each year is make an annual gift to the Wolfpack Club, make a capital campaign gift and then had to buy your season ticket and parking pass. The capital campaign gift, which was $2,000 per seat, was payable over a ten-year period. We made it affordable for people. The pressbox itself is phase two and will be open this football season. That is being financed through the leasing of the 51 (luxury) suites and the 1,200 club seats. Phase three is building another 5,000 seats in the north endzone. That will be partially financed with more lifetime seats."

Throughout my conversation with Jimmy, he mentioned the NC State Wolfpack Club. I asked him about that club and how they have helped the NC State athletic department.

"We had about 18,000 (members) when I left," said Jimmy. "There are about 14,000 that I call adult members. They are the ones who do it not only because they are loyal supporters of NC State, but because they want tickets and they also want a tax deduction. The other members include the Student Wolfpack Club, the largest student organization on the NC State campus. There are about 3,000 members in that organization. They pay $30 per year. While the money is not that important, the habit of them giving to the club is important. At NC State, they are given credit in the priority system as if they are a regular $100 member. Another organization that has been very successful is a women's organization called WOW. We are going to create something like that here. While it won't be the Bulldog Club, it will be an affiliate of the Bulldog Club. Things like the Ladies' 101 Football Clinic would be run by that organization. And, in Raleigh (NC), that clinic was sold out."

He believes Mississippi State can eventually have a Bulldog Club similar to the Wolfpack Club.

"Forgive me for talking about the NC State Wolfpack program so much, but because Mississippi State is so similar to NC State, it can happen here," Jimmy said. "Our fans, alumni student body just need to step up. Mississippi State fans should want to see this program be the very best it can be. Every Bulldog football fan, every alumnus, should be a member of the Bulldog Club. The margin of excellence for the Tennessee's and Florida's is due to the money being there when they need it. I know all this will take time and not happen overnight."

Of course, for the Bulldog Club membership to grow, potential members need to be contacted. That has not always been in the case in the past because I have read first-hand of MSU fans who said they have never been contacted by the Bulldog Club - not many, but a few. However, Jimmy, even though he has only been on the job since July 18th, already has ideas on how to change that.

"Not being asked to join the Bulldog Club - that is not going to be an issue any longer because we are going to ask them with our volunteers," explained Jimmy. "We will create a volunteer system and call them Bulldog Reps. I know that has been done here once before and it worked well. Those people will be our eyes and ears away from Starkville. We also want to have 10 districts in Mississippi. I've challenged (Bulldog Club executives) Bart Gregory and Strat (Karatassos) to have our 10 district reps identified and signed up. Each district will have about 6 counties. What we would like to have is a district chair and a Bulldog Club person in each county. We'll also do direct mail. We hope to expand our staff, but we don't know how many it will eventually be.

"We are also going to create a Bulldog Club publication that will be mailed to Bulldog Club members either 9 or 10 times a year. We are going to improve our (Bulldog Club) website. We want folks to be able to pay their Bulldog Club dues online in the very near future. We are probably going to shift our (seating) priority system from what we currently have. It will be really good for bowl games as well as SEC and NCAA basketball tournaments (seating) because you can put everybody in linear order. It will be based on your annual gift, the number of years that you have been a member and the cumulative dollars that you have given."

Jimmy sees one specific area that can help generate new Bulldog Club members.

"Right now, in some cases, we have 4 or 5 people put their money together and purchase tickets through one person who has a higher Bulldog Club priority. We want all of those folks to become Bulldog Club members and purchase their own tickets. We are going to set it up so that those folks can still sit together. We'll call it an amnesty period."

Although folks sometimes are confused about what the financial responsibility of the Bulldog Club should be, Jimmy is not one of those. He has concrete ideas as to what its responsibilities are.

"The main thing we want to do in the Bulldog Club is pay for the (athletes) scholarships," said Jimmy. "Last year, the Wolfpack Club gave the NC State athletic program 16 million dollars for scholarship money and benefits that the university paid to coaches such as annuities and life insurance. Six million dollars of that was the scholarship bill. Part of the balance of the 9 million dollars was for the facilities' payment.

"We are going to ask Bulldog Club members to make an investment, make it possible for Sylvester Croom, Ron Polk, Sharon Fanning, Rick Stansbury and every other coach at Mississippi State to bring the very best student-athlete here. And we can do that if we'll pay for all the scholarships with Bulldog Club money. Then, the other monies that are generated from ticket sales and all the other sources can be used for the other projects. Right now, our Bulldog Club (revenue) is about 8th or 9th in the SEC. Our people have to be committed to making Mississippi State the best it can be."

While building a bigger base of Bulldog Club members is one avenue of growth, he also see two other major avenues that could lead to huge dividends to the financial stability of the Mississippi State athletic programs - endowments and corporate giving.

"Ideally, you would like to be able to pay for your scholarship bill out of a big savings account like an endowment. Some institutions are endowing their coaching positions to help supplement compensation packages. I think our endowments at Mississippi State have evolved to 15, 20, up to 50,000 dollars. We are going to take a very hard look at endowments. The first thing we have to do is set the endowment amount. Most of the other schools around the country set their minimum level to 100,000 dollars. At NC State you could designate what sports you wanted to endow. That was the way we marketed it. You could not only endow it to a sport, but to a position. Each of the basketball scholarships at NC State were endowed with $250,000 or more per endowment. All of the football positions, all 22 of them, were endowed. Now, that money will always be there."

And he wants to make sure each of the individuals who give endowment funds to the Mississippi State sports programs know that they are appreciated. Of course, their name can be part of the title of the endowment, but he wants the coaches and players to be able to show their appreciation as well.

"I talked to our staff last week about having endowments scholarship sponsored dinners during the year," said Jimmy. "We would have a great number of the coaches and athletes attend them."

The last area of giving would be corporate giving. And it won't just be the corporations giving money and not seeing a person from the Bulldog Club until their bill comes due the next year.

"We have a corporate program that we would like to implement, which, for lack of a better way to describe it, we would call 'Bulldogs Supporting Bulldogs'. Businesses can join at certain levels. Ideally, we would like to send a directory of businesses to our Bulldog Club members. It would be set up based on their trades and services. Maybe, we could set it up so that you could show your Bulldog Club membership card to the company and you could get a percentage off your purchase or some other benefit."

He knows there is a lot of work ahead, but he sees a humble beginning that can build a dynamic future.

"We have about 5,000 members in the Bulldog Club - we need to get to 10,000 members as soon as we can," said Jimmy. "I would love to add 5,000 members who give the base amount of $100 per year. It would give us a great base to sell season tickets, it would give us a base for participation. It would give us a base where each of those (new) members could help us find another new member. We know people have other financial obligations, but I really think people can afford to join the Bulldog Club."

A lot of ideas for sure. Can he make them work at Mississippi State? History says he can. In his athletic fund-raising work at NC State, he directed the planning for the five-year Goal Line Drive, a capital campaign to raise $50,000,000 for expansion of the NC State stadium. And it didn't even take the full five years to reach their goal - it took 3 years and 9 months to raise not $50 million, but $62 million, 25 percent above the stated goal.

He was also credited with directing activities that generated more than $10 million in capital campaign gifts in 2004, the first time a single area of giving within the club had exceeded the $10 million mark. The Wolfpack Club raised more than $21.5 million in '04, the most successful fund-raising year in the 68-year history of the organization. During his tenure, he also led campaigns generating revenue for NCSU's baseball and tennis facilities. So, he's not reaching for pie in the sky that he hopes to reach. He has done all this before. Now, with the help of each Bulldog fan and Bulldog corporation, he will help do it at Mississippi State.

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs Bite: Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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