Economy of a Winning Season
What SDSU’s recent basketball victories have done for the school’s fund-raising efforts
Like never before, San Diegans went ga-ga over San Diego State basketball last year. It was nutty, it was fun, but can this infatuation last?
“We will continue to have an exciting kind of basketball and an entertaining kind of basketball that people love to watch,” Aztecs men’s head coach Steve Fisher, coming off the best season in school history, told San Diego Magazine in early June.
Fans of Aztecs basketball were still buying what Fisher was selling going into this summer, even as the coach declared that his next team will not match last year’s gaudy 34-3 win-loss record. Season ticket sales for the 2011-12 season, which begins in November, are up more than 30 percent from last year’s program record of 3,326. “The number could go over 4,500,” said Steve Schnall, an associate athletic director who oversees marketing.
Aztecs attendance soared to 11,688 per game last season, 49 percent better than its previous record set in 2006-07 and first for all Division I universities in California. By comparison, UC Berkeley was a distant second (7,893), followed by UCLA (7,759).
A bounce in scholarship fundraising for all Aztecs athletics followed the basketball team’s rise to fourth in the national rankings last February and the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen last March. “We will have our best scholarship fundraising ever—meeting our goal of $2.4 million this year,” said Bob Moosbrugger, associate athletic director for development and major gifts.
Just as longtime Aztecs fans smiled in amazement last winter as SDSU climbed above regal basketball powers such as Duke and Kentucky in the national rankings, Moosbrugger eyed a pledge form in May signed by one longtime season ticket holder. “The gentleman committed $500,000 over 10 years to men’s basketball,” Moosbrugger said. “He went from $3,000 a year to $50,000 a year, and it’s because of the success of men’s basketball.”
SDSU’s cost of funding scholarships for athletes across its 19 sports has more than doubled since 2000 and may rise another 32 percent depending on the severity of state budget cuts, one example of why basketball’s ascent is timely.
Money also helps sustain success, which is why SDSU created a Basketball Excellence Fund that allows donors to earmark Fisher’s program. Salaries for Fisher’s assistants ranked only sixth or seventh in the nine-school Mountain West Conference entering last season, but donations have bumped the ranking to third, now. Donations also will help to strengthen SDSU’s home schedules in years ahead, as guaranteed money is needed to lure opponents to one’s home court at a time when schools are trimming travel costs. “You want to entice teams to come to San Diego,” Moosbrugger said. A basketball practice facility is also on the wish list, although its $20 million price tag makes it “the ultimate dream,” Moosbrugger said.
Thinking bigger in terms of media revenues as well, SDSU officials will begin negotiations this fall with KOGO AM, whose five-year contract to broadcast Aztecs basketball games ends next spring. School officials will try to “massage the situation,” Schnall said, with Time Warner Cable, so Aztecs games aired by The Mtn., a regional network, appear in more households. SDSU’s five consecutive seasons of 20-plus victories going into this fall will strengthen the school’s media leverage.
Business-as-usual applies to SDSU’s other efforts to further the program’s popularity. A newsletter—Aztecs Nation—emailed to anyone who buys a ticket to an Aztecs sporting event was in place before last season, as was an SDSU sports Web site—goaztecs.com—and SDSU accounts on Twitter and Facebook, all maintained by SDSU media-relations staff.
“Wins,” Fisher said. “That’s how you keep it going.”