Stricklin: Enhancing The Bulldog Experience

Today concludes the two-part interview with Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin. In part one he discussed results of the SEC Meetings, cowbells, league revenue, and the record pace of season football tickets sales this summer. Today Stricklin comments on football stadium renovation and expansion goals, Humphrey Coliseum, future football schedules and SEC schedule rotations.

Q: Is the regional market survey Greg Byrne and you began a year ago complete? "We got that information back. And really it's a lot of information that we provided to our architects. It's funny, that information is helpful but at the same time it is not a definitive answer. The numbers that actually came back from that survey would tell you we don't need any more suites, but we need more club level seating. I think we need some more suites. I don't think we need to go crazy with suites, but I think we have demand for more suites.

"And you have to realize we did that survey in the summer of '09, the economy was just in the early throes of what is going on. And that was before Dan ever coached a game. I mentioned the stair-steps, we're two or three steps past the point we were at when that survey went out. I still think that survey is good information, it gives us good data and we're going to use it. We've has some meetings this summer with our campus master planners, but also with our stadium architects. In fact we're going to Kansas City next week to sit down and have another session with them.

"Once again, we want to take a long-term view of Davis Wade Stadium. Twenty-five year view. And once we get an idea of what it could look like...and I threw out 75,000 seats, I don't know if it will be that. But we need to take a down-the-road view; and then be able to peel-back and say hey, what are the first steps? What is the next phase? Is it just renovating the west side; is it renovating the west side and adding north end zone seats? Is it just finding a way to add premium seats? I don't know those answers, but those are the kind of first-steps that when you do start to put a shovel in the ground you're doing something that you know is going to be good for the next 25 years."

Q: Greg's position was only build things that pay for themselves. You seem more flexible in such planning? "I think anything we do on a large-scale is going to require some private support in addition to what we generate incrementally from revenue, tickets sold. Ideally you'd like for it to pay for itself; I don't know. It would take a long time to pay it off. I think we're going to need some private support. But our development staff, our Bulldog Club folks are already out there working on the ‘quiet' phase of raising money for football-specific projects. Among them, possible future stadium renovation, expansion. So it's not that we're waiting to get the plan and then we're going to go out and ask for money; we're already working some of those relationships to see who would be interested in helping."

Q: Greg always used a baseline figure of $25 million for any real additions, is that still true? "I would think it would be at least that."

Q: At the same time, upgrading the existing facility seems at least as important as any expansion? "And I want to say to that, to me the most important thing is how do we enhance the experience? When I say experience, I'm talking game-day but I'm also talking the day-to-day experience of our student athletes; the day-to-day experience of our staff and coaches; the day-to-day experience of our alumni and fans and how they feel about this place. The reason we always focus on game day is all of that kind of seems to come together in that one place.

"But how do we enhance that experience? The restrooms are important part of that, concessions are an important part of that. Moving around, parking, the video board, all of that is part of the game-day experience. The University signed a new deal with Aramark to be football concessionaire and they're going to do a lot of ‘branding'. They're putting a new face on all the concession stands at Davis Wade Stadium, it'll be ready for this fall. There will be new food offerings, I think it will be a real professional appearance. Once again, that's going to enhance our experience that we're able to provide people who come to watch the Bulldogs play."

Q: Is it fair to call the approach ‘better first, bigger next'? "The best way to put it, we're probably trying to approach some quick-fixes while doing some long-term planning."

Q: Is the increased SEC payout providing some of those quick fixes or other needs? "A lot of that money has already been spent throughout the year. We knew two years ago this was coming, we signed the deal in 2008. So we've had two years to budget for that. The new drainage systems at baseball and softball are the kind of projects that get paid out of that. The track renovation, the soccer field.

"And it's not necessarily SEC money going to that, but whether it is increased ticket revenue or SEC money. All those kind of things are going to those type deals. The banners we stuck up at the football stadium and other venues, that's not a real large expense but those are the kinds of things we've done short-term with some of that money to kind of get things kick-started."

"The track renovation is roughly $3 million. The basketball practice facility is $11.5 roughly; and the soccer field three or four hundred thousand. We're taking the crown off, it's going to be the exact same field that baseball and softball has, the exact same drainage."

Q: Besides plans for Davis Wade, we've discussed ideas for additions to Humphrey Coliseum before; would that be a long-term plan? "That's more long-term. I mentioned we wanted to have a long-term view of Davis Wade, we want to have a long-term view of all our facilities. Baseball needs that same approach as football. It's not adding 20,000 seats obviously; it's what is the best way to update what I think is the premier college baseball atmosphere and experience out there? We've never going to lose what makes it special, but we want ways to enhance it and grow it and make it remain the jewel we think it all is.

"But the Hump, I don't know that the with the seating areas there'd be a lot of things you do down the road. We might find ways to add more premium seats in some way. But you talk about concessions and restrooms at football, basketball is another area we need to be creative and find ways to enhance that part of the experience for people that come to basketball games.

"I think the seating ‘bowl' of the Hump is one of the great experiences in college basketball. I can remember coming here with another school, having travelled all around the league; there's not a better atmosphere when it's packed than Humphrey Coliseum. And it's packed a bunch. We've got a great thing here from a game-day experience. We don't need to sit back and say we're done on anything, so we've got to continue to find ways. Last year we added new lighting, we re-painted the courted, added new banners. You're always looking for ways to stay fresh and energize what you have."

Q: Has the Southeastern Conference finalized the next round of schedules to begin in 2012? "No. We actually got handed tentative ones that I don't think are done. The format doesn't change, it's just a matter of some dates moving. I don't know when they're going to tell us we can lock that in cement yet, hopefully it's sometime this summer."

Q: It will stay a 5-2-1 rotation? "Yeah. I think they're going to try to get ten years out. Larry Templeton is actually working with the league on a lot of that. As far as I know now no rivalries or rotations change. We're going to finish up with Ole Miss every year. My sense of what I've seen is there is nothing drastic in there."

Q: Has the opening in State's 2011 schedule been filled? "You know what, we might be close to something there. I'm not ready to say who, it will be a FCS school. But we've sent a contract to somebody and hopefully it will be back and we'll be done for '11."

Q: State's schedules from 2012-through-'16 all have one non-conference game to fill in. Will that be a lower-Division school or an inter-conference game for TV? "It will always be FCS, unless we get told we can't.

"To me, here are our scheduling priorities. We want seven home games as many years as possible, and we have it every year except for '11 going forward. We want to be as efficient with our money as possible in acquiring those seven home games. And we want to put ourselves in position competitively, we want to go to bowl games. You know, to the people who say wouldn't you rather play a big-name, non-conference opponent, my answer is yes, absolutely: I hope every December or January we're playing a big-name non-conference opponent.

"You know, we played Georgia Tech last year and while that was great, if you'd replaced that game with someone a little different on the competitive scale…I'm not sure playing Georgia Tech in October replaces the excitement of going to a bowl game. I'm not being critical, and you can't always tell. You may schedule somebody and they end up being world-beaters down the road. But I think we have to be smart. We want seven home games and from a financial standpoint we don't want to spend a lot on them. And then we want to put ourselves in the best competitive situation possible to try to get to a bowl game."

Q: Are you confident all the contracted teams through 2016 will honor the contract or can they be bought-out from under us? "I think that's always possible. You write these contracts and it seems like a lot of money the day you sign it; five years later it might not seem like such a big figure when somebody is offering you five times as much. That's an exaggeration!"

Q: The SEC's TV contracts provide lots of revenue but still leave schools room to negotiate local rights deals. Is this anything we can look forward to State trying in the future? "Where that helps us is we might get a basketball game or some baseball games on CSS or FOX. Football is already eat-up with the current contract pretty much. We don't have a developed, mature, third-tier TV package, so that little piece of inventory probably doesn't benefit us as much as it does some of the other big schools. Kentucky probably gets four-five million a year from IMG, a lot of that is part of their radio network but also their non-conference basketball games that nobody else picks up. They've got a market to generate that kind of revenue and sell sponsorships off of. There's not many people that have that kind of revenue stream.

"Where we make money is through our Learfield agreement we have a deal with CSS where we get our football games on tape delay. That's revenue strength through our Learfield agreement, not through CSS. And that's how most of them are set up, set up through a Learfield, an ISP, and IMG."

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