Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said Thursday that in the past two to three years, the school’s athletic department has lost between 2,000 and 3,000 donors. Given that Maryland is located in what Anderson called “one of the most stable [economic] markets in the country,” he believes such a trend can be stemmed and reversed.
Recently, Anderson hired the man charged with guiding Maryland’s efforts in that regard. Nathan Pine’s first day as the school’s senior associate athletic director and chief of staff was Monday, and in the coming months his primary objective will be to reshape the department’s strategic plan, parts of which Anderson and Pine indicated have grown outdated and insufficient in recent years.
Maryland has utilized a chief of staff in the past, but in an entirely different capacity. Most recently, Cheryl Levick served that role under former athletic director Debbie Yow. Until she was hired as Georgia State’s athletic director in February 2009, Levick ran Maryland’s day-to-day operations for nearly two years.
Rather than be involved in day-to-day matters, Pine will be charged with keeping the department on track toward long-term fundraising and marketing goals. He will report directly to Anderson, and while he won’t be directly in charge of anyone, he will be what Anderson called a “vertical integrator,” someone who works with all areas of the department to keep everyone on the same page.
“A big portion on that fundraising initiative is clarifying the vision and making sure that we strategically communicate what Maryland athletics is all about and why alums, fans and donors should invest in it,” Pine said. “I think that it ties in nicely with some of our strategic initiatives to increase revenue in having a plan and a vision that can be articulated easily, not only by people in the department, but also by fans and donors and people that are close with the program.”
One of Pine’s first tasks is to form a committee with voices from every segment of the department that will collaborate to reform the strategic plan. He said the goal is to at least have a rough draft of the plan done in the next 60 to 90 days.
The final version of the plan, Pine said, will provide the department with clear targets, which will be used to continuously monitor Maryland’s progress.
“It’s more than a plan that sits on a shelf,” Pine said. “It’s a real live document that we are using to get better on a day-to-day basis.”
The need to revitalize the strategic plan in a relative hurry became apparent to Anderson shortly after he arrived on campus last October. With Maryland’s ticket sales, donor base and overall revenue in decline – issues that many other athletic departments across the nation are facing, as well – Anderson saw value in having someone on staff whose sole focus was finding means to turn the program around from broad perspective.
Pine comes to Maryland after spending nearly three years at the University of California, where he worked as the assistant athletic director for development and major gifts. Last fall, Cal’s athletic department debt grew so significant that it announced the elimination of five varsity sports, a move that projected to save the department roughly $4 million per year.
More than $1 million was netted – and more than $11 million was pledged – in just more than four months, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which led to three of the five endangered sports – women’s gymnastics, women’s lacrosse and men’s rugby – being saved. Baseball and men’s gymnastics were removed.
What Pine said he learned from that experience that an “alumni base is very strong and, when motivated and understanding of the situation, was able to step up and increase its giving to a point where those [three] sports were not needed to be cut.”
When asked whether any of Maryland’s 27 varsity sports were in danger of being cut, Anderson said: “We are facing some financial challenges in that we are going to have to put this plan together sooner rather than later to meet these challenges. No telling what could happen if we don’t meet those challenges.”
The financial outlook for the Maryland athletic department, Anderson said, is not ideal. He returned to campus Wednesday from an Atlantic Coast Conference athletic directors’ meeting in which it was revealed Maryland’s cost for paying men’s basketball officials is going to increase by 25 percent and its cost for paying women’s basketball officials is going to increase 18 to 20 percent. That’s a minor, yet significant example, Anderson noted, of the unanticipated expenditures for which his department now will have to account.
Down the road, Maryland’s athletic department is facing a rising debt service that could reach what Anderson called a “very significant” level in 2016.
Anderson declined to provide specifics as to the current debt service amount – “I am not certain because the number varies, and there are certain variables that will go into that that have not been set in stone yet.” – or what it projects to be in coming years.
“I’d like to address it with you now, but I’m not certain about the number,” Anderson said. “It could vary from something that’s significant. We’re putting our arms around it now.”
In steps Pine, who graduated from Oregon State in 2000. The two men worked together at Oregon State and then at the United States Military Academy, where Anderson formerly was the athletic director.
Pine’s background is in fundraising, marketing, commercial sponsorship and ticket sales. He led a fundraising effort at Army that secured a single $15 million donation for an indoor practice facility. At Cal, Pine directed a $500 million capital campaign for the athletic department. He also implemented and marketed a $325 million initiative to renovate Cal’s football stadium.
But Pine has never had a role as wide-ranging and unique as the one he possesses at Maryland. His boss believes positive change, in terms of finances and community support, can occur at Maryland over time. And Pine will play a considerable role in determining how Maryland goes about trying to make that happen.
“I truly believe that we have enough people that are affiliated with the University of Maryland, alumni, grads and everything else, that we should not be seeing a decrease in our fan and donor base,” Anderson said. “Even if it’s a minimal increase, we should be seeing increases because of what the university stands for and what it gives back to the state of Maryland and the community.”