published Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

UTC athletic director David Blackburn targets 10 percent budget growth

UTC athletic director David Blackburn
UTC athletic director David Blackburn
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn is optimistic about his department's ability to increase ticket sales, increase giving and raise the operating budget by as much as 10 percent in the next few years.

"The greatest growth potential we have is in our own ability to raise money for athletics," said Blackburn, who was hired in April.

The projected operating budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which doesn't include gifts, is $12,013,245, according to data provided by UTC senior associate athletic director Matt Pope.

"I think in three to five years from now, you could see that," Blackburn said. "I believe that in my heart, because I think there is a whole level of growth in the $200-500 donor that we've not tapped into yet. That, coupled with season-ticket sales, coupled with a couple of larger major gifts, I think we could get 10 percent growth in the next three years.

"That's going to be a hard number to hit, but I don't think it's unrealistic."

UTC raised just shy of $1.1 million in gifts in 2012-13.

Blackburn said he didn't expect to see a huge jump in ticket revenues this year over 2012-13, when they generated $709,642. Football and men's basketball ticket sales have the greatest room for growth among UTC sports, he said.

Blackburn said he thinks UTC fans are still waiting to see if the football program can make the jump to reaching the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs before committing. As for men's basketball, under new coach Will Wade, Blackburn said he expects ticket sales will be bigger next season than this season.

"We have a good product to sell," he said. "I just think people, it's the chicken or the egg. I think people are waiting to see, is this thing for real? Can this thing get better before they get involved? But we can't think about it that way. We've got to go and sell them on everything happening over here."

The football team has played two games at Finley Stadium this season and has averaged a little more than 10,000 a game, roughly the same attendance the program has attracted since 2009.

It has been 29 years since the Mocs made their only playoff appearance, in 1984, and those same 29 years since they earned even a share a Southern Conference championship. In that time UTC has had two seasons with seven or more wins and 15 with seven or more losses. The Mocs are 25-22 under coach Russ Huesman, who is in his fifth season.

The past struggles of the football program, and to a lesser degree the men's basketball program, likely have contributed to a disconnect between UTC and its alumni.

"We weren't reaching out [to alumni five years ago], and we're still not reaching out to the degree that we should be," Pope said.

Putting more fans in the seats at Finley is a must, Blackburn said, from the students to families. He said student attendance is down all over the country.

"I think we've got to start winning, and once that happens I think the students will come more," Blackburn said. "We can't do anything about the proximity to the stadium, but it becomes a lot closer to campus if you're winning. It becomes extremely far away if you're losing."

There is already limited beer sales in the stadium club at Finley, and the subject of widespread beer sales at the stadium is something Blackburn already has heard a lot about from fans.

"I'm not prepared right now to say [my opinion] either way, but I do know that a lot of people have mentioned that to me," he said. "People sure are interested in that question."

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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