Link: [URL=http://charlotte.bizjournals.com/charlotte/stories/2007/11/12/story3.html]Will Charlotte Inc. buy into UNCC football?[/URL]
[QUOTE=CharlotteBusinessJournal] Friday, November 9, 2007
Will Charlotte Inc. buy into UNCC football?
Max Muhleman studying potential ticket sales
Charlotte Business Journal - by Erik Spanberg Senior staff writer
photo NANCY PIERCE
The man behind the city’s successful NFL franchise bid has been recruited to gauge corporate support for football at UNC Charlotte.
Veteran sports-marketing executive Max Muhleman’s study, which is testing whether the business community will buy tickets, should be completed later this month.
It will be part of the material gathered by a university-appointed committee studying the feasibility of a UNC Charlotte football program.
Muhleman’s firm, Private Sports Consulting, is focused solely on potential demand for tickets in the $20 to $30 range per game.
Luxury suites and other premium tickets have not been part of the surveys because it is likely a UNC Charlotte team would play at Memorial Stadium for a few seasons before a stadium is built on campus.
Adding a major football program at a growing university in a large city offers great potential, the sports marketer believes.
“It’s an exciting prospect,” Muhleman says. “They should have the benefit of enthusiastic support from Charlotte’s business community.”
At the same time, he says his study is aimed neither at raising nor dimming hopes for football at the school. Instead, the goal is to get an accurate reading of what a realistic level of support could be for the program.
The study is one of many steps taken by the university committee formed earlier this year. Retired Wachovia Corp. executive Mac Everett chairs the 10-member football committee. The university’s board of trustees authorized up to $150,000 to study the feasibility of adding football.
The committee will make a recommendation early next year to Chancellor Phil Dubois.
The committee lost its 11th member when alum and Bank of America Corp. Chief Financial Officer Joe Price joined the UNC Charlotte board of trustees. Through a bank spokesman, Price declined comment on the potential support among corporations for football at UNCC.
Everett’s committee plans to make a recommendation to Dubois in February. The chancellor will then turn the matter over to the board of trustees, with a decision expected by mid-2008.
Initial findings show a football team would require an investment of up to $10 million a year, including expenses related to adding women’s teams to ensure gender equity. The school’s current athletic budget for 16 sports is $10 million.
Beyond the annual costs for football, another $100 million to $125 million would be needed to build an on-campus stadium and practice facility. The majority of operating funds would be generated by a $300 hike in student fees, which are now $445 annually.
Projections have been conservative for corporate and donor support. Those figures are estimated at $1 million annually.
“The key question is whether people will buy tickets,” Muhleman says. “That’s where it all starts.”
Experts say corporate sponsorships could be limited, particularly during the football program’s early days.
If the 49ers play at Memorial Stadium for a few years, the aging venue would offer no video scoreboard for advertisers. Other options available in newer and upgraded stadiums would also be unavailable for the program to generate revenue.
Corporate support through donations and ticket purchases would be a much stronger sell.
“Bringing football would give the school a different angle to get corporations involved,” says Steve Hall, principal at Signature Sports Group Inc. Hall, a UNC Charlotte graduate, sells sponsorships for the school’s men’s basketball program. “It’s hard to say how that moves the needle on sponsorships.”
In recent weeks, the committee has hosted campus forums with alumni, faculty, staff and students to glean opinions and questions on the impact of a football team.
“It’s not asking whether or not you want football,” Everett says. “It’s asking the questions our committee has looked at. If we decide to have football at UNC Charlotte, what are the consequences? And if you decide not to have football, what are the consequences? There are some for both.”
Proponents point to several reasons why football should be added. It generates excitement for students and alums, brings broader national recognition and helps other athletic programs because major conferences are more willing to accept a school with a major-level football program.
Skeptics – and proponents – acknowledge the chief shortcoming of football: It’s expensive. Other concerns include its potential all-consuming role on campus, which could detract from academics as well as the rest of the athletic department.
A student forum this week included several comments in that regard, but the 25 or so students who participated offered widespread support for bringing football to campus.
“Students that I talk to are overwhelmingly positive on the football issue,” says Jay Atkinson, a UNC Charlotte senior on the football committee. Atkinson, a former student government member, says students are also “hesitant to say they’re definitely going to pay an extra $300 per semester. That’s a large number.”
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