Brian Wickstrom recently entered his third year as the University of Louisiana-Monroe (ULM) athletic director and is excited about what’s ahead. Last year, ULM athletics experienced one of its most successful years both on and off the field, including record ticket revenues for both basketball and football, one of the most successful men’s basketball seasons ever with 24 wins, a College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament runner-up finish and nearly 300 student-athletes posting a 3.0 GPA or higher. Additionally, his ability to hit fundraising benchmarks led to the ground breaking of the first privately funded facility in the history of ULM athletics.
Wickstrom touched on these exciting moments and how he’s capitalizing on some of the momentum from last year to elevate community engagement, fundraising, ticket sales, etc. for the upcoming 2015-16 season.
Q: As you ramp up for your third year as AD, what are some of your big priorities for the 2015-16 season?
Brian Wickstrom: It’s going to be an exciting year for us, and we’ve already kicked it off on the right note by setting an attendance record of 465 fans at our women’s soccer home opener. Additionally, we want to increase student engagement and capitalize on our great basketball run last season. We set ticket revenue records last year, and I want to continue pushing those numbers to the next level.
ULM broke ground on a new football end zone facility project last spring with it set to open in January 2016. What is the significance of the project and what will it do for the athletics program?
BW: Athletic facilities are extremely important. We’re a Division I program, but we’ve had coaches using closets as offices. This end zone project is significant because it’s the first athletic facility to be constructed at ULM in more than 20 years, and it will be the first project to be funded solely by private donations.
The funding we’ve achieved for the project will enable us to add a new locker room, a Hall of Champions (hall of fame) and new offices that overlook Malone Stadium. The achievements around this project will help us recruit the best student-athletes, provide them with positive experiences and gain more exposure for our athletic programs. As our athletics programs continue to succeed, we will gain the momentum we need to build additional facilities in the future.
How important was community engagement for the end zone project and how did you earn it?
BW: I made a commitment to ULM’s president that we would fund the entire project without tapping state dollars. We set up 1,500 donor meetings and speaking engagements to educate the broader community about our current budget needs and the state of the student-athlete experience. By the end of 2014, we secured $4.2 million and we’re continuing to raise money so that we can do even more.
Many people that donated were giving money to ULM’s athletic department for the first time. Since adopting the AXS Ticketing platform, we’ve been able to collect insights on the purchasing and donation habits of fans. We’ve used this information to turn single-game ticket purchasers into season ticket holders and even donors. We didn’t have this data before, and it has made a huge difference in our ability to communicate effectively and conduct successful outreach campaigns.
How are you getting fans engaged in other athletics programs outside of football?
BW: Football is big here, but our men’s basketball team had a great showing last season, finishing as the runner-up in the CBI tournament. The CBI games brought back fans that hadn’t attended a game in years, and now we need to keep them engaged with new promotions and offerings. We’re already surpassing our season ticket goals for the upcoming season.
These accomplishments continue to raise our profile and help us transition fans from being season ticket holders for one program to single-game ticket purchases or season ticket holders for other sporting events.
Do you have any other big projects in mind for the future?
BW: We’re looking at some options for renovating Fant Ewing Coliseum (basketball arena). We’d like to increase funding for our track and grow our operating budget to help coaches with recruiting and travel expenses. Those areas will be a focus throughout the 2015-16 year.
What’s your proudest moment as ULM’s AD throughout your tenure?
BW: There’s a lot that I am proud of. Breaking ground on the new football facility was a huge milestone. Also, it’s exciting to see the improving graduation rates and academic progress of our student-athletes, as well as their positive feedback about the improved experiences they are having at ULM.
There’s a lot of positive energy around our athletics program that was absent a few years ago. It’s an exciting time to be a Warhawk fan, and I love being able to help build a great environment.