Oct. 6, 2009
by Matt Winkeljohn
OSR Sting EXTRA
ATLANTA – Dan Radakovich is roughly halfway through his fourth year at Georgia Tech, and under his leadership the Athletic Association has made considerable changes in fund-raising methods, built a new softball stadium, a brand new basketball practice facility, made significant upgrades to Bobby Dodd Stadium and more.
He spent nearly an hour speaking with Sting Extra OSR about a variety of issues. This is the first part of several question-and-answer sessions that will appear in upcoming issues.
Q: If you were to deliver a state of Georgia Tech athletics address now, what would you say first?
A: We do that in January, so it’s a little ahead of what we normally do, but if we were stock, we would be moving up. I think that we have some really positive trends going on, starting at the top with our new president, Bud Peterson, and moving into our coaches.
I think we have the best group of coaches that we’ve had in a very, very long time. They’re very committed individuals; they care about student-athletes, they care about winning. I think that as a group this is a great collection of coaches. In short, our stock is moving up.
Q: Tough economic times have affected everyone in some way. How about Tech athletics?
A: I think we’re OK. We sold more season tickets in the sport of football than the year before, and we look to be trending that same way in basketball. Our donations have not taken a large hit. We have good product right now, and good values in the marketplace. I think people realize that.
I think the implementation of the Tech Fund, where it’s a donation based on the location of your seat both in football and basketball, has been a real positive. We’ve raised more money in that quid pro quo kind of circumstance. We still get unrestricted gifts, and we exceeded our target in each of the last three years even though the Tech fund has been in place.
I think the economy has hindered us a little in some of our endowment giving. Endowment giving generally occurs when people have positive events in their lives. With the economic issues of the past 12 months, we’ve seen a little bit of a dip in that part of our fund raising.
What we ended up doing last spring is taking bout $3.5 million out of our budget. We did that through a very thorough search of everything we do athletically. Unfortunately, we had to cut back on our personnel; we had to lay off some folks in the spring. Those costs were part of that $3.5 million. We’ve also out-sourced some operations.
As we look into the future, because we don’t have the mega stadium that allows us to really ramp up when things are great on the field and in the economy, we have a ceiling. You can’t put 80,000 people in a 50,000-seat stadium, so we have to understand where we’re going to be and work like heck to be consistent with the revenues we have, and maybe look at opportunities that we can out-source.
Q: Given the combination of economic realities and the many sources of entertainment in the Atlanta market that Tech athletics has to compete against, branding is that much more important. How has the process of branding at Tech compared with what you anticipated when hired?
A: It’s about where I thought it would be. I knew it would be a difficult sell. When you look at urban environments, whether you’re in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Miami, Atlanta, it’s a little more difficult to brand your product . . . but it’s not impossible. We do get our brand out, people understand it, and that’s why it’s very important than when people try our product they enjoy it.
We know that Atlanta is the largest alumni base for 11 of the 12 ACC schools, and we need to embraceit. We need to understand that when we play some schools, it’s important to have their fans in this area come . . . we want them to be able to come to our campus and enjoy the collegiate environment.
Success [on the fields of play] is positive, but [fans] coming to a game and having fun where you’re not intimidated by the surroundings . . . that’s important for us, too.
Q: While winning makes branding easier, does the unusual offensive approach of football coach Paul Johnson and his distinct personality make branding any easier, make it easier to differentiate your product?
A: There’s no doubt about that. There are a lot of good football coaches, and we had a lot of good coaches apply for the position. Paul stood out not only for his unique implementation of offensive philosophy, but just because he’s Paul.
He is a very interesting guy to speak to one on one, he’s very good in front of crowds, he does say what’s on his mind, and he’s a great motivator. He’s also a lot like a lot of people who come through Georgia Tech and had success while wanting to continue to do that and prove that their ideas are good ideas.
Paul has done that. He believes 100 percent in his methodology. We couldn’t have done real well, I don’t believe, from a branding standpoint by taking someone who was from the cookie-cutter mold of coaches. It’s different here. Our student-athletes come here for different reasons, to participate in a high quality level of competition while at the same time getting a great education.
That’s different than some of the student-athletes that go to other schools. We embrace that. We don’t run away from it. Paul does a very good job with that. I like him as a coach, I really like him as a person. He has great values, great competitive spirit, and that’s something that’s very important in today’s society to teach student-athletes.
Matt Winkeljohn is Managing Editor of Sting Extra OSR. Feel free to offer comments or story suggestions at email@example.com.