Arkansas State is going all in with their fans. The Red Wolves’ Athletic Director, Terry Mohajir is hoping the new $30 million North End Zone project will enhance the fan experience, engagement, and lead new fans to the football stadium.
“When your competition is the 80-inch screen TV you have to create an environment and social areas where people want to engage with each other. It can’t just be about going to watch a game, it’s got to be an experience,” explains Mohajir.
He’s hoping the stadium’s emphasis on things uniquely Arkansas, like a natural water feature, will draw in new Red Wolf fans.
“Arkansas State is an emerging university, an emerging with athletics program and so the history of donation to athletics has not necessarily been a top priority for our fan base.” Mohajir admits he’s operating a unique environment, “Sometimes fundraising can be a challenge, not necessarily because people don’t have the capacity or the means to do it. It’s just, it hasn’t been part of the culture.”
Contributing to college athletics can often be a family tradition, it’s enriched in the culture over generations, but he knows the people of Jonesboro want to be in a town that has an active university with a vibrant learning environment. Mohajir thinks the key to getting people to support the Arkansas State program is engaging them in an incredible fan experience.
The premium seating portion of the North End Zone Project will feature lodge boxes, a natural water feature outside of the stadium, and a rail in the tunnel where fans can get high-fives from the players on their way to the field. Arkansas State expects the premium seating to be complete by the September 1 season opener.
“Well, I don’t care where you are, power five, group of five, NFL, Major League baseball, you have to have in-game fan experience,” says Mohajir. “You have to have a little bit something for everybody. The music that you play, you have to have things on the video board for kids, you have to have face painting, good food, and all kinds of different things.”
The North End Zone Project is just one of many projects Mohajir has overseen since becoming Arkansas State’s AD in September of 2012. Collectively the university has spent about $80 million on updates including a new indoor facility, new clubhouse for the tennis and soccer programs, new tennis courts, new bowling locker rooms, renovated baseball locker rooms, new baseball training facilities, new locker rooms for men’s basketball, renovated locker rooms for women’s volleyball, and more.
Arkansas State has raised the money through traditional fundraising, its fundraising foundation, the Red Wolves Foundation, and also several naming rights opportunities.
The first naming rights partnership came in 2012. A $5 million gift from Centennial Bank secured the naming rights to the football stadium, an additional $5 commitment from Centennial Bank in 2017 extended the banks naming rights through 2037. In 2017 First National Bank agreed to a $5 million, 12-year partnership for the naming rights to the Red Wolves arena, First National Bank Arena.
Arkansas State has also received a pair of personal naming opportunities from Johnny Allison. A $5 million gift in 2014 from Allison named Arkansas State’s renovated pressbox and suites the Johnny Allison Tower and then again in 2017 Arkansas named the football field Allison Field after another $5 million gift.
But as Mohajir explains, it’s not all about who writes the biggest check.
“We structure it based on the priorities of the entities and ourselves. We go in asking lots of questions and listening to what they want. You sit down with them and discuss what’s important to the leadership of your company.”
The entire North End Zone Project should be complete in early 2019. But as Mohajir has maintained all along, this upgrade is way more than just building more seats.
“I didn’t want to just build more seats because building more seats can be very difficult to fill. It’s the fan experience, the atmosphere, the energy, and the only way to see it is to come to the game.”