When George Washington went looking for an athletic director, university officials followed a path that many other schools have been taking recently. They didn’t go after a former coach who was looking to stay involved in athletics. Instead, they went for someone with a background in fundraising and marketing whose business expertise can help the school better position its brand in a crowded marketplace.

Patrick Nero, who was introduced at a standing-room-only news conference at Smith Center on Wednesday morning, didn’t play a varsity sport or coach a team in his nearly quarter-century in intercollegiate sports. But the 45-year-old, who previously was the commissioner of the America East Conference, has spent his career negotiating the economics of athletics.

“He has all the right skills and experience and a strong commitment to excellence,” GW President Steven Knapp said. “He brings to his new position 23 years of experience in intercollegiate athletics, including numerous leadership roles within the NCAA, extensive fundraising and compliance background and a strong grasp of the role of athletics in the university as a whole.”

With a nod to GW’s school colors, Nero wore a buff-and-blue-striped tie. He told the assembled crowd — including Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade and his father, William Nero, a former vice president at Providence College — how happy he was to be at GW.

Speaking directly to Knapp, Nero said: “I have one goal in working with you and working at the university, and that’s to make you as proud of the athletic program as you are the rest of the campus, and we will live up to the expectations and the mission of this university.”

Nero also thanked outgoing athletic director Jack Kvancz, who is retiring on June 30 but will remain as an adviser to the athletic department.

“The last 17 years, what you’ve built here, I will respect that and do everything I can to live up to what you’ve set for me,” Nero said.

Nero’s hiring appears to signal GW’s recognition of the importance finance plays in athletics these days. The university has spent $43 million to renovate the nearly 36-year-old Smith Center, yet its signature sport, men’s basketball, attracted the lowest average home attendance in the Atlantic 10 in 2010-11. An average of 1,788 fans watched the Colonials at home this past season.

UMBC Athletic Director Charles Brown, whose school is a member of the America East, was on the committee that selected Nero to be the conference commissioner in 2005. Brown was at Wednesday’s press conference.

“There’s a whole new breed of athletic administrators,” Brown said. “Patrick is a leader in that area. He is part of the new generation.”

Nero gave Loyola Athletic Director Jim Paquette his first job in athletics as a student worker at Providence College, and they have remained close since. Paquette also attended the news conference.

“Patrick is certainly respected in college athletics as one of the best fundraisers in the country,” Paquette said. “He really cares deeply about the student-athlete. It’s about their experience. He will think of them as his own children. He will care deeply about their experience.”