Working To Keep a Grip

Oct. 14, 2009

by Matt Winkeljohn
Managing Editor
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, authored several significant facility upgrades and continues searching for new media models and ways to spread the Tech brand.

He spent nearly an hour speaking with Sting Extra OSR about a variety of issues. This is the third part of several question-and-answer sessions.

Q: With the virtual explosion in personal communication options like Facebook, Twitter and the like, some conferences have tried to police those outlets as a form of spreading the word about their member schools. Does this indicate that college athletics need to change the way it does business in any significant way?

A: I think what the NCAA has to do, and I’m on a committee that is looking at this, is really look at our recruiting rules and make sure that they work for 2009. All of those things you just described, and [more]… are we regulating things that are not able to be regulated, and costing [athletic] departments a lot of money in chasing their tails? Does it really matter how many times somebody calls [or texts, or Tweets, etc., a prospect]? We really have to look at whether that’s important.

Q: Will social media forms like these rule the roost in years to come?

A: Outside of that, television is always going to be one of the bigger issues we have with college athletics. The great television contract that ESPN and ABC have done with the Southeastern Conference has changed even this fall how we view college sports. Various time slots, various viewing platforms… there are some games we’re seeing in this region that we probably would never have seen before.

Q: Does the ACC have a similar contract in the works with a major network?

A: The conference has done some due diligence in talking with our current television partners. That process will begin in earnest this spring because the contract ends June, 2011. So well ahead of that end date, I’m sure [ACC commissioner] John Swofford and everybody wants to have a new television deal in place.

Q: There’s the Big Ten network; could the ACC network work?

A: It could. The ACC has a very good demographic footprint. It has four of the top 10 television markets inside of its footprint. No other conference has more than two. So as we go out into the marketplace as a league, whether it’s our own network – which has a lot of positives to it, but some risks – or taking our rights and selling them which has been the current model like what the SEC has done, we really just have to see what the market will bear for a long-term television and exposure time deal for the ACC.

I think it’s critical that for the first time the ACC is going to package football and basketball rights together. That didn’t happen previously. I think we’ve done phenomenally well under that scenario, but I think it’s time to create that synergy that necessary with this type of television environment that we package the two and hopefully make our overall offering a lot better.

Q: What about a school-specific network, like say the Georgia Tech network?

A: I don’t think it’s as far away as some people think. It begs the question: what’s the platform that it’s delivered on? Is it a purely laptop/PC-type network where you sit at home and watch what you need to watch about Georgia Tech on your home computer? I think the ways of delivering that content are going to continue to evolve and get easier for consumers to watch what they want to watch.

Q: Any drawbacks to that concept?

A: One of the things we have to be vigilant about in college athletics is how exposed we are. That becomes a real issue. There had to be 20 games available to be viewed [on a recent Saturday]. I’m sure there wasn’t half that many 10 years ago. Will we have 40 in 2019? There’s where the rubber really meets the road. How exposed are we?

One of the great, unique values of collegiate athletics is that people come and participate and watch, come back to campus, you have the student involvement, the band… it’s different than the professional environment. We can’t lose that. We never want to get to the point where people say, `You know, I’ll just sit at home.’

Q: Is there a risk in overexposure beyond the possibility that it will frighten potential customers away from buying tickets to games?

A: I think the biggest thing that we have to worry about is the generation that we’re dealing with. Right now, if you were born in 1990, cable television has been your whole life. When you get into the 2020s and the 2030s, are you really going to want to go to events?

Our generation of people who are going to games right now, and are tremendous supporters of ours, are all 50 and up. We have to make sure that the folks in their 30s and 40s continue to understand that buying habit of being involved in college sports, and how important it is for the next generation to support their schools and go to events. That’s what we have to teach.

Matt Winkeljohn is Managing Editor of Sting Extra OSR. Feel free to offer comments or story suggestions at gtstingx@gmail.com.

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