On Monday, CollegeAD had the opportunity to speak with Iowa Director of Athletics as part of our CollegeAD Conversation series. Does Barta see alcohol sales come to Kinnick Stadium any time soon? How involved were the Big Ten athletic directors in the league’s search for new Commissioner Kevin Warren? Barta also discussed Big Ten revenue, facilities, fan engagement, the next big college athletics arms race as well as what’s next for Hawkeye athletics.
On Tuesday, the Big Ten announced Kevin Warren as the league’s new commissioner, replacing the retiring Jim Delaney. Barta shared some insights on the decision-making process that ultimately led to Warren’s appointment.
CollegeAD: How much input will the Big Ten ADs have in who becomes the next commissioner?
Gary Barta: It’s clear that the presidents will make the decision, I mean there’s never been any wavering from that. Fortunately, the presidents have both on our own campus and throughout the Big Ten have sought great feedback, have sought great feedback from the ADs and talked about the type of things that were important to us. But when it comes to making the decision and making the hire it will come to the president.
CollegeAD: A few weeks ago it was reported that the Big Ten generated almost $760 million in revenue, and distributed about $54 million of that back to its members. When you take into account the new television deal that’s in place, is it reasonable to expect that number to keep rising?
Gary Barta: Well it actually started, and we knew that our TV revenue was going to increase significantly back when we started the Big Ten Network, and since that time our TV revenue has grown dramatically. Now starting last year, it’s still going to grow, but its a much steadier, slower growth now after the large jump of a couple of years ago.
But its something that’s been coming for about ten years and so we’ve all been investing it, its student-athlete nutrition and sports psychologists and cost of attendance and many many other things, facilities, and now its a matter of continuing to grow but it’s going to be at a much slower pace.
CollegeAD: How do you use that money within your department?
Gary Barta: We’ve hired new sports nutritionists, sports psychologists, additional athletic trainers, cost of attendance, its given us an opportunity to invest more in the students. We hired the nutritionist, but what prompted that was freeing up the rules of feeding student-athletes, we added about $2 million a year in food costs when that occurred. And then with facilities, we renovated Carver Hawkeye Arena, Kinnick Stadium, built other Olympic sport additions and venues.
CollegeAD: When you look at the future of your own television, and you’ve been able to invest in your own production, how much does that help to spread the brand of the University of Iowa along with the Big Ten Network?
Gary Barta: I think today’s consumer is crazy about video. Whether it’s over the air television, cable, video in just about everything we do, you talk about the traditional press release, and we still do those, but there’s a high consumption of who we are and what we are through video.
So over the years, we’ve been investing in that. Our social media sites are through the roof. We’re always in the top 8 or so presence in numbers. So just continuing to grow that presence and being ready to go wherever it is it takes us. You know if over the air or cable changes, we want to be ready with our content to take it wherever it’s going to head, that’s both at Iowa and with the Big Ten.
We feel like we were way ahead of the game in terms of trying to transition our staff, trying to invest in social media, maybe eventually we’ll fall behind, but right now we’re ahead of the game a little bit, certainly we have to make sure we’re looking for the next way to stay ahead and not fall behind.
CollegeAD: How did you get ahead of the curve?
Gary Barta: We have a really talented staff and a willingness to take some risks, and I think video was something we tried to invest in early and understanding that a lot of young people today, that’s how they consume almost anything through video, and fortunately we had our infrastructure built up enough, we certainly can do better and built it up further, but built up enough so we could take advantage of that.
We have a fan base, it may sound anti-instinctive, but our fanbase in the Midwest a rural part of the country, our fanbase is really intuitive and active on social media, so we’re fortunate our fans are passionate, and we’ll just try to continue to provide the content that they are looking for.
CollegeAD: Alcohol sales have been a hot topic thus far this summer. While the Big Ten allows the sale of alcohol in its stadiums, the University of Iowa currently does not participate. Do you see stadium-wide alcohol sales coming to Kinnick Stadium anytime soon?
Gary Barta: What I’ve said all along, I’m a big believer of safe, legal, and responsible, and what I’ve said for quite a few years now that I knew we weren’t going to be the first, and I suggested that I doubted we’d be the last.
I see it coming, we’re having some discussions on campus, broadly, not just in Kinnick Stadium, but across campus, and at the end of the day, the reason that I think we’ll do it eventually is because of enhancing the fan experience. Not, as you know, just an opportunity to make money, but really a chance to add to the fan experience. In today’s environment fans have so many options, that I want to make sure they have a great experience and adding beer and wine into the stadium and the arena is a likely step, but we won’t take it this far yet.
CollegeAD: What are some of the other things you will maybe try to tap into as you continue to compete with that big 60” TV on Saturday in air conditioning? How have you seen that aspect of the industry really evolve in the last couple of years?
Gary Barta: Well I would say in the last 10 or 15 years, there was a day where just having a seat in the stadium, just a bench seat, there were a lot of fans who felt fine with that. I think there are still some who do, but more and more if there’s a 70” screen in your living room, one of the ways we try to combat that we now have two 100-foot-type TVs in our stadium, just trying to compete with the video excitement, and making sure that the in-game experience that way with Hawkvision continues both in our stadium, and we also installed new video boards in Carver Hawkeye Arena.
The other thing is, over the last 15 years, still underway right now, we have an end zone project where we’re adding club seats, so we’ve got new club seat and new suites going into our end zone, and that’ll be done in time for this football season. And we added new club seats and new suites on the west end about 13 years ago, so just continuing to come up with a wide variety of seating, so if you want a suite or just a seat on the bench, and everything in between, we have that for fans.
CollegeAD: Are there any other facility projects on the horizon or currently underway?
Gary Barta: Always. I say that so over the last 10-12 years we’ve had several projects to the tune of close to $200 million, and we have plans and ideas and thoughts and visions over the next 10 years, I mentioned we’ll finish our end zone project this fall, and then at the same time we’re making some significant improvements to our golf course. We have men’s and women’s golf, a beautiful golf course but we’re working on putting in a new clubhouse, and we’ve added some practice facilities and we’re looking at some renovations to the course, so that’s underway.
We’re raising money for a new wrestling training facility, we want to do some things for soccer, for softball, baseball, but all of that takes money. So it’s all on the drawing board, and now we just have to keep raising funds.
CollegeAD: What are some of the opportunities you see as you move into the future?
Gary Barta: Well no matter how good a program is, we want to get better. We have a slogan: ‘Win, Graduate and Do It Right’. So we want to win more, we want to graduate at a higher rate, and we want our student-athletes to continue to do cool things like community service and have our fans participate in the wave and just continue to do things the right way. So I don’t have a specific piece to single out, but we’ve got a long way, we want to keep getting better.
CollegeAD: What’s next for the University of Iowa?
Gary Barta: We’re just finishing up working on a five-year strategic plan, and at the end of this summer we are going to lay out what we envision in the next five years, and when we do that, we know full well that two years from now there might be things a lot different, but I’m a big believer- I had a boss, and her favorite thing to say was hope is not a strategy. So we’re always planning to get better, and our new strategic plan will roll out this summer and it will include how we’re going to win more, how we’re going to graduate more, it’ll have a facilities master plan, just where we see ourselves going over the next five years.