Pernetti sheds light on stadium, season plans
University Athletic Director Tim Pernetti talks with The Daily Targum's News Editor Caitlin Mahon about the completion of the stadium expansion, changes to ticket sales, challenges in his new position and plans for the season.
Caitlin Mahon: If the football team starts to do well, or perhaps if they don't do so well, will that be a major factor with ticket sales?
Tim Pernetti: It always has an affect. Last year, if you look at what happened at the beginning of the year, we did not get off to a good start, but it really didn't impact the game at all. This year it's really hard to say. I think success on the field has a lot to do with it and I don't think it will hurt us any in having the ability to tell the story of the football team having success. We're going to continue to bring more people to it. But the answer to your question is what [happens] on the field in a lot of places does have an impact, but I think we're becoming more of a big time program where it has less and less of an impact because we've had a sustainable path of success now in football, where it hasn't just happened in the past year or two, it's happened for the past five years. People are becoming accustomed to it.
CM: How were budget changes a challenge for you, coming in as the new athletic director?
TP: You need to get a handle on the finances and understand what the budget is, what the numbers mean, where the money is, what's been spent [and] what's been brought in. I literally spent four months on that. I spent a lot of my time with [Deputy Director of Athletics for Finance and Administration] Richard Costello in conjunction with [Deputy Director of Athletics] Kevin MacConnell and various other senior level administrators and our coaches. We spend time with our coaches going through individual sport budgets, and really the exercise was to try to get our whole department to a place where we felt comfortable and we all had a good grasp on the finances, and from there, we identified places along the way where you could do things a little bit better or do things a little more efficiently. The process where we've gotten to, we have a much better handle on our budget than we've ever had and we also think we've managed to put some things in place that will help us be more efficient and give us a much better chance at, overtime, running a profitable business.
Matthew Stein: Regarding feedback, there have been a lot of groups that have been very much against the stadium expansion, a lot of groups that have been very much for it. What feedback have you received?
TP: From within the University, it's all positive feedback and like I said, everybody is very focused on getting it done and working together to get it done. I think that there's always going to be differing opinions on projects like this and again, for me I kind of entered the game in fourth quarter for this thing, trying to get it done. I think everyone has opposing viewpoints. I think for the most part, it's been positive. I think really the challenge for us going forward is trying to make sure we run our business the right way so we are in the position to continue to retire the debt in a practical way, because it is a massive investment but it wasn't an investment of anybody's tax dollars or any state money. It was an investment by the University that we've taken a responsibility on, and we'll continue to bare that responsibility until it's paid. But you can't avoid the differing opinions, but I spend time within the University on it everyday and it's all positive all around.
CM: Do you foresee when the borrowed funds for the stadium expansion will be paid back?
TP: It's a 30-year repayment schedule; you won't be any further ahead than that schedule dictates a year from now unless a variety of things happen. Maybe [there will be] a monster fundraising year and you can apply more money toward the debt, but we will be retiring the stadium debt over the next 30 years. That payment schedule has already been determined and has already been approved by our board. It has been approved by the University and that's a path we're on starting this year.
CM: Do you have any specific plans for the semester?
TP: Do I have plans? I have a lot of plans. The one thing I try to do as much as possible is be visible. I don't spend a whole lot of time in [my office] every single day. Some days I'm in [my office] sun up to sun down; other days I try to be out. I spend a lot of time with the various members of University administration. I pretty much talk to the president every day. The one thing I wanted to make sure I do is over-communicate to the administration everything that's going on in athletics, and I don't think you can ever do that well enough. I want to make sure I'm out on campus and at our games with our student athletes. The one thing when I was here [as a student athlete] that I always wondered about was what gets done behind the scenes to make the environment better for student athletes? Being one myself not too long ago, I'm spending a lot of time talking to our student athletes, talking to our coaches, talking to members of our staff to try to understand where we can do things a little bit better, because I see our student athletes here all year round. It's not just an in-season thing anymore — it's all year round. So I want to make sure that we provide the right environment for them so they are supported in everything they need and that they have the ability to succeed in the classroom and succeed when they are competing. That's really what I plan to do. And spending a lot of time on fundraising because I think it's important, especially as we're doing new things and our profile continues to be raised up that we bring more and more people to it to help us, because as you know in athletes, that's the life blood of any program: You need to have a large tent to fill with people to support you.
CM: There is now an agreement with Verizon FiOS Channels to broadcast games. Did you have anything to do what that agreement?
TP: [Jason Baum, assistant athletic director for communications,] was really the guy that worked on it. It was kind of teed up when I started [in spring 2009] and I was involved with the final phase of it but not the entire thing. I was excited to hear about it when I first came because where I came from — I came from a TV network — I was part of starting up CSTV, which was a college cable network, and all we did was produce and televise Olympic sports. Football and men's basketball weren't even a part of our original plan. And when I heard about this deal, it was very similar because there's so many college sports events that never see the light of day on television, and I think now that there are more distributors out there, and telco companies are getting in the distribution business, [which] gives us the ability to partner with these people who really come in, and they're offering us exposure for all sports programs, a lot of them that would never get it otherwise and are willing to take the risk on the production to produce these games and for us, it's a win all around … FiOS1 — which is the channel these games would be on — is starting to gain some traction in the state, so wherever more people have access to it and … as they try to grow their distribution so more people can see it, they want to have locally relevant programming. And that's what we are in the process of, so I think it's a win-win all around. It'll give them some good programming to help grow their viewership in the state and gives us a lot of exposure for a lot of our sports that we didn't have before.
CM: Last spring, the men's basketball team received a private donation for a cultural experience playing club teams in Spain. Are there any other donations for other University teams that you foresee coming in?
TP: A lot of teams have the opportunity, and I think the one thing that is difficult about fundraising — and it's really perception more than anything, and I'll try to explain it — is that I think the view of fundraising is that there's money coming in and that we're the ones that decide what to do with it. In certain cases, if there are contributions to athletics that are to be used at our discretion, which is very rare, we will do that, but for the most part donors come with contributions for specific purposes and when they come with those purposes, we are obviously not really in the position to tell them to do something with it that's different. We want to make sure it's a good experience all around. I don't anticipate that those opportunities will continue to be there. Off the top of my head right now, there's really nothing that we are discussing that is out there in the immediate future, but I do think that those will continue. I think that sometimes for cultural purposes, for educational purposes, team-building purposes, some of those things are good if they are done the right way. I also don't think it's something we will get in the habit of doing on an annual basis.
Matthew Stein: Are all the improvements on line with where you want them to be at this point, and what type of feedback have you been getting, either positive or negative?
TP: Everything is right where we expected it to be and right where we want it to be, and needless to say, with a project like this, with the scope of a project like this, the work will not stop on that site [after game day]. There are certain things that will continue but be relatively invisible to the fans in the stadium. But everything that we laid out and needed to get done [is] done. With projects like this, you know there are things that are going to come down to the pike to deal with, things that you are not sure [of] and you can't anticipate. But literally hundreds of people at the University — from the president's office to [athletics] to guys on the site to the guys in finance — so many people are involved in this thing and without everybody collaborating, I'm not sure we'd even be at this point. We are really pleased that things like this always tend to be a down-to-the-wire type deal, but we're really pleased with the progress. I think we are as excited as anybody because we are in there every day, walking around, looking around, but we're excited.
The first part of this interview was featured on Friday, Sept. 4. Sports Editor Matthew Stein contributed to this interview.