Monday, April 14, 2008

Show Me the Money

My buddy Rock had a post today without comment. Rock is sometimes content to leave things unsaid. I, on the other hand, usually am not. That's a failing, I realize, but it makes me more fun at parties.

As I looked that ad over, skin crawling, I started to think about how the athletic department makes its money these days, and how it compares to days of yore.

When Kevin White arrived at ND, he had a reputation as a budget-balancer and fund-raiser. But we had an idea about the source of such acumen, and the good doctor has proven proficient in this regard. The Blue Gold game is now sponsored. Notre Dame now has "partners" and "teammates", not vendors. Only backlash from the old guard on campus prevents ads (and a video screen on which to show them) from showing up on the hallowed grounds of Notre Dame Stadium.

As we watch the Golden Dome being parceled out in this manner, one could reasonably ask: Where are the donation-driven finances for athletics? Why are we watching the Roman soldiers of commerce cast lots for Touchdown Jesus when ND has never wanted in the past? Back in the day, names like Rolfs, Loftus and Eck were lauded for stepping forward and making improvements to Irish sports possible with their generosity.

Where have all those flowers gone?

It's a lot more difficult to convince people to part with their money for the good feeling it engenders rather than the chance to put a label on something, and Kevin White is proving he's not up to that task. Think about what we've seen during his tenure:

  • The Gug. Built, to be sure, but so far behind schedule they had to break ground or risk losing the leadership gift that made it possible.

  • The Joyce Center. Six years late, even a leadership gift by Philip Purcell hasn't been enough to really get things rolling. They're breaking ground in September, but still a couple hundred thousand short according to reports.

  • The hockey project. An anonymous $15m gift (thanks to Coach Jackson, not AD White), and they're still $5m short of the goal.

  • The softball stadium. Made possible by the legal settlement following the sudden death of a former player. Not exactly standard fundraising fare, although God bless Melissa Cook's parents for their generosity in a time of great pain for them.

And that's it. Granted, you have the completed indoor golf facility and the soon-to-come crew boathouse. But on the grand scale, those are minor (though much-needed) projects rather than T. Boone Pickens-style windfalls.

What does it say about Kevin White's ability to schmooze alumni and friends of the athletic programs that Frank Eck, he of the tennis pavilion and baseball stadium that bear his name, and who seemed to always be there with a helping hand when Notre Dame needed him, gave over $41 million to Notre Dame during White's tenure ... with none of it going to to athletics, even with major projects looming and late?

We have a tardy basketball project that will end up spending more on a commercial Varsity Shop than on the student athletes. A hockey program coming off a title game appearance with the crappiest rink in just about any NCAA division. A championship-level Fencing program that practices in a virtual broom closet. A list of projects for track and field gathering dust on the drawing boards. And sports like tennis and baseball, recipients of previous gifts, whose physical plants are showing their age. All of which calls for a plan and for the solicitation of generous, Irish-minded folks who want to help make those projects happen.

And where is Kevin White, the alleged financial wizard? Putting another piece of Irish tradition on eBay on the cheap. Because when you do that, you don't have to demonstrate you understand Notre Dame as much as you understand how much someone will pay for part of it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

And if in their ad Adidas had chosen to show a gaggle of Michigan players pummeling a ballcarrier, you would have railed on White for ND being second fiddle to Michigan. Just last year you b*tched and moaned that Michigan got a few more dollars from Adidas than ND.

And now, you're calling White and ND money grubbers.

Does complaining ever get tedious for you guys?

4/14/2008 08:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who's going to pay the bill?
You, Lt. Caffey, you, Lt. Weinberg.

I suggest you write a check (put your money where your mouth is) or close your piehole.
Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you
are entitled to.

--with thanks to "A Few Good Men"

4/14/2008 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

If you really think I would have complained about Michigan and not ND appearing in an ad like that, you truly have no understanding of what the issue is.

The problem with the adidas contract is the outfitter pays the school to wear its garb. That's an innocuous method of fundraising and is the typical way in which a school makes money from its athletic program. Since ND gets more attention than any other athletic program, they should command top dollar for that.

Shilling and using the ND name to push deodorant is not in the same universe, let alone the same ballpark.

4/14/2008 08:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Moose said...

Kevin White's biggest issue is that he has alienated all of the people in the development office who actually know what they are doing when it comes to fundraising. They are not motivated to help him because he works against them, often leaving money on the table (specifically as it relates to soliciting former athletes who have made the big time) Its because of White's arrogance and inability to connect with true ND men like the legendary Mr. Eck that he stopped funding athletic pursuits and focused his giving on academic ones. White is a little man with an ego two sizes to big, and he can't leave soon enough for me!

4/14/2008 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

Actually, I do write a check. Every year. Most of the time, it's at Sorin-level donations, but this time I earmarked the money for basketball practice facilities, so I won't get the DS designation on the football tix application.

Do I still have to close my piehole? Or would it just be easier for you to not read the blog?

4/14/2008 08:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that tradition for tradition's sake is not a particularly worthy goal. Few institutions have a more glorious history of "changing the game" than Notre Dame football.

I believe that the father of barnstorming, the man who instituted a cross-country trip to California to play football, a keen publicity and marketing mind, would probably have no problem with this advertisement.

On the contrary, he might read columns like this, then snort and respond, "Is Notre Dame about winning championships and leading the game, or is it about antiques?"

He didn't let those cameras into the locker room and give a canned speech for nothing. That stunt is way beyond the adidas advertisement, especially for its time. And his then-crass publicity seeking speech has now become legend, part of the "tradition" of Notre Dame football.

4/14/2008 10:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear. If ND starts selling ad space in the stadium, I'm done with the football program entirely. Ringing that cash cow up in that way will do nothing other than cheapen the brand.

Dr. White appears to do a decent job at many things (Olympic sports success is at an all time high), but I agree that he has no understanding of the best way to promote the ND brand. If he did, he surely would not use the brand to promote deodorant.

Thank you for providing this public service. You guys may be internet crazies (said partially tongue-in-cheek, which I hope you appreciate), but you do identify real issues that make the rest of us think about things.

4/15/2008 07:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who were the lead donors on the building of ND Stadium, the Expansion of ND Stadium, the Joyce Center?

Seems to me that in the last 20 years the big ND Donors have all given to academic stuff. The DeBartolo Quad, the Mendoza School of Business, etc.

I wonder if the BOT and the Admin have given him marching orders that the big money ND alumns are not to be approached without their OK. To raise money some other way.

4/15/2008 08:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You fail to note several current construction projects in your piece, most notably the new lacrosse and soccer stadiums, as well as the upcoming renovations and additions to the football practice fields.

4/15/2008 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

Wasn't aware they'd broken ground on the soccer and lax facilities. I'll have to check that out on Wednesday.

But even so, those projects, like the golf and crew projects, are small potatoes (though, also like them, much needed).

4/15/2008 08:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"specifically as it relates to soliciting former athletes who have made the big time"

like who?
who has recently made the "big time" from Notre Dame?

bunch of irrelevant geeks, you better take your money where you can, b/c w/out the backing of the "worldwide leader" you would've appeared in 2 less BCS bowls in the last 5 years...
hang on tight to your TV contract w/ ABC, you gloryhounds.

4/15/2008 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

Um, the contract is with NBC, a network that carries little weight with the BCS. ABC and ESPN, in fact, do not support ND football all that strongly because they promote the programs they actually televise.

But don't let that stop you. Rant on, brother.

4/15/2008 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you think the practive facilities for the fencers are bad, check out their locker rooms. They are in the baelt lit tunnels with the heating plant, chairs for events and unused popcorn stands.

Of course, that is what is expected by the fencing team. White, after all, didn't bother to show up to award the NC rings to the team.

4/15/2008 09:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2 fewer BCS bowls (not the original point had any basis in reality anyway).

4/15/2008 09:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike said: "The problem with the adidas contract is the outfitter pays the school to wear its garb. That's an innocuous method of fundraising and is the typical way in which a school makes money from its athletic program."

I'm not sure I would agree with the term "innocuous" in this case, seeing that the Adidas logo is on everything the University puts out. I'm surprised they haven't painted three stripes on the Grotto yet. This from a school with a $6B endowment (I think that's the number - I'm sure I'll be corrected if not).

But if I understand what you're saying, it's OK to whore out the football team and the University for money if you deem it to be "innocuous". But somehow this ad is "too" whorish.

I understand the idea of using images of our football team to sell deodorant (of all things) is somewhat unusual. I just really fail to see how it's any different than much of what the school has been doing for years in terms of milking the football team (and its fans) for every dime they can.

After all, those fencing teams don't pay for themselves, you know.

4/15/2008 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

To me, there is a big difference between a small logo on a uniform, which ND had back in the Champion days as well, and a full-page ad for deodorant. The former can be done tastefully. The latter cannot.

I also think there's a difference between an outfitter supplying ND's uniforms and equipment and dictating to ND what uniforms will be worn and what equipment will be provided.

4/15/2008 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for the donors for ND stadium, the JACC and the stadium expansion, I don't know that there were any. I believe that those projects were almost exclusively debt funded.

It would be good to direct some ire toward the BOT and the finance office for not allowing athletics to keep more of its revenue surplus to pay for stadium improvements.

4/15/2008 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Uncle Rico said...

I seldom, if ever agree with your blogs, though that does not make me wrong, you right, or the other way around.

That said, you've hit the nail on the head with this one.

It seems as those who've proven they've no clue on this issue have shown they've hit themselves on the head with a hammer.

4/15/2008 04:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just curious when does the ND contract run out with Adidas? I would like to see ND go back to Champion as its outfitter or maybe Under Armour, I just don't like the look of any Adidas products that ND sells they look cheap to me, I go to the Bookstore and see anything they sell apparel wise and I am turned off as it just me?

4/15/2008 06:41:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I suppose I'm a little disappointed by your critique of White for not securing more athletic money from the Ecks. Suppose for a moment that the Ecks' recent donation trend was their own decision, rather than Kevin White's fault. Perhaps, the Ecks were also interested in supporting other projects for the university, related to the scholarship side of the university. I love Notre Dame sports; but, if tomorrow sports disappeared from Notre Dame entirely, the fundamentals of a university remain and these need as much upkeep (more with the increases in technology) than a basketball arena and practice facilities. Notre Dame's primary job is to provide a fine education for its students, which includes the athletes. Athletics is an important extracurricular but secondary to the intellectual and spiritual formation of the faculty, staff, and students.

Though, I do agree with the problem of the university selling itself to any corporate sponsor that it can (Xerox, Coca Cola, etc). It quickly become embarrassing to open up Sports Illustrated and see Adidas selling deodorant with your University. Alas.

4/16/2008 06:27:00 AM  
Blogger ebroderick said...

I know where the money is coming from, I recieved my ticket apps this week.

Do we really want to compete for the highest ticket price with other schools? Note USC's ticket price. Should we really emulate their policies? At least they can claim they're dealing with LA real estate costs. South Bend? - should be a little more modest in comparison.

It is easier to choke the little guy than deal with the power brokers. All hail King Kevin. "Let them eat... KOC steak sandwiches!"

4/16/2008 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the points do have some merit, I find it interesting that Kevin White is put forward as the only demon responsible. It is as if those who believe that Kevin White is some kind of cancer also believe that he exists in a vacuum making every decision by himself.

The athletic department is not an independent subsidiary of the University, it is a part of the University and very much accountable to and under the control of the University's trustees. If one should take umbrage over marketing, sponsorship, or an add featuring Notre Dame, then ire should not only fall on the athletic department, but the University's marketing department and the trustees.

Quite simply, if the trustees and president truly are the heavenly host with miraculous judgment as ascribed to them during the fiasco that was the Willingham firing, then they obviously stand behind Kevin White's plans. If the president and trustees truly believed that Kevin White is bad for Notre Dame, why have they not taken as swift action as they did when Willingham was dismissed?

Has the marketing become excessive? Perhaps. But let us not fool ourselves into believing that Kevin White can do so much without any input from the University's controlling interests.

4/17/2008 08:04:00 AM  

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