Editor’s Note: Georgia Tech Associate AD / Finance and Administration and 2017 NEXT UP presented by adidas honoree Marvin Lewis recently spoke with CollegeAD on a wide array of topics. The Q&A below has been edited for clarity and length.
CollegeAD: Your duties at Georgia Tech include overseeing all aspects of the department’s finances, what are some of the most misunderstood aspects of revenues and expenses related to modern day athletic departments?
Marvin Lews: We’re a small part of the institute’s financial operation and we might be the most visible, but there’s a lot of things happening on campus and athletics is just a small percentage. I look at our endowments, I look operating expenses, we’re less than 10% of what’s happening of what’s happening on campus. I think there is that misconception that athletics has all the money and the athletic department is what’s driving the train but many times the institutions have a lot of things happening that many people aren’t aware of.
Secondly, in terms of revenue streams, there’s really only two major significant revenue streams that we control annually. That’s ticket sales and fundraising. Most of our revenues are based on long term contractual arrangements, whether that’s ACC distributions or corporate sponsorship and multimedia rights. So each and every year we’re really pushing on ticket sales and fundraising to address any new expenses, that’s why it’s important to continue to enhance the game day experience and tell the story of our athletic department so that our donors want to invest.
CAD: You’ve spent time working in the Group of Five, how has that experience impacted the way you approach the finances at Georgia Tech?
ML: My approach is the same now as was when I at a school in the Group of 5, I still think you have to be as efficient with every dollar that you spend. I consistently ask when new ideas come up, my question is the same, what’s the return on investment? It might not always be financial, it could be to help our student-athletes, it could be from a marketing and branding perspective that there could be return, making sure we through that exercise is something I did then and I do that now. There’s got to be a return on investment.
We have to do our due diligence to investigate the best solution for our institution. We can’t compare ourselves to others. We can’t say a conference counter part did x, so we need to do it, we’ve got to make sure we do our due diligence to investigate how to solve the problem in a way that fits us.
CAD: Georgia Tech recently announced a new apparel deal with adidas, how important are corporate partnerships to the financial health of athletic departments?
ML: There’s the obvious of their contribution to the revenues within the department. There’s a financial component of direct dollars going into your program. But I would say the most important thing is how you integrate your corporate partners into your operations. So it’s not just a transaction where they’re writing a check but they’re enhancing your brand. If you align yourself with the right partner they should be able to provide a greater return on investment or return on objectives.
When we talk partnership, we want it to truly be a win-win on both sides and the dollars and cents have to work but we want to see how to get someone ingrained into what we do. An example might be providing internships for our students if we have an opportunity to share any corporate sponsor also engaging our students we can tell a story that will have a larger impact on tickets sales and philanthropy, and the marketing of our athletic programs.
We want it to be more than just a check.
CAD: What was it about adidas that made them the right fit for Georgia Tech?
ML: I would say their focus on innovation, that’s one of Georgia Tech’s core values, adidas is on the forefront of that. Their desire to be in Atlanta, they’re opening a speed factory in Georgia, the P3 Sports Performance will be in Atlanta and they a partnership with them.
For recruiting we wanted to be with someone that was on the offensive. Someone that was trying to do things differently that would attract 16, 17-year-old kids. adidas has been doing some things that pretty innovative and different. We knew with this partnership we would be one of 11, we would be one of their premier properties. They were going to invest in us and we were important to them.
CAD: The ACC is nearing the launch of its own linear TV network, what will be the financial impact of the network, and what is Georgia Tech doing to prepare for the network?
ML: The total financial impact is to be determined. I think there is a lot of upside to it but either way, it’s going to be very significant and provide us with a great opportunity to invest in our student-athletes. It will give us an opportunity to further enhance our story telling because there will be additional revenues available to also another avenue to tell the story of Georgia Tech.
Infrastructure wise, between fiber and studio space and control rooms, we’re looking at about a $10 million investment and that does not include staffing. So we’re also looking at what’s the appropriate staffing model for us and what’s the appropriate phase-in of staffing. We’re at the 10-yard line so to speak in terms of finalizing those decisions and moving forward with funding. It’s going to be significant from a revenue perspective, obviously, there’s going to be a short term cost component of the $10 million to get it up and running but we think it’s going to have a significant impact on our ability to tell our story.
CAD: Prior to working in athletics you spent four years in private practice at an accounting firm, what experiences/practices we’re you able to pick up in private practice that you use today that you wouldn’t have got without time away from athletics?
ML: I was able to see different businesses because I was doing accounting, see how those businesses operate, how they make decisions, how they manage their finances and in many situations how they grew and how they got better every day. In the service industry, you realize how important it is to build personal relationships and be consistent.
The importance of being intentional with your culture. I think sometimes we in athletics can take for granted the fact that we have fun around us, we have games, it’s always a new season, it’s really exciting, and I think at times we take that for granted. Where as working in a private space, they were very intentional about figuring out ways to enhance culture because the subject matter might not be exciting. So seeing on the other side and seeing how intentional people were with building culture and adding fun to a corporate environment is something that I try to bring to athletics. We’ve got to have fun too, not just on Saturday at a football game.
CAD: You’ve worked under a number of athletic directors including Mary McElroy, Cheryl Levick, Kevin Anderson, Mike Bobinski, and now Todd Stansbury, what are some things you’ve picked from each of those leaders that have benefited you in your day-to-day job?
ML: Mary McElroy hired me at Georgia State and I worked with Cheryl Levick. I’ve had a unique experience working with two female AD’s, but also a minority male in Kevin Anderson. Mary, she took a chance on me, so I took away that sometimes you’ve got to take a chance on staff that might be hungry, driven, and are going to work hard even though they might not have the expertise but hard work can overcome some of that. With Cheryl, it was truly the attention to detail and how every detail is important and being a professional means paying attention to the details.
Kevin probably had the biggest impact on me from the perspective of being true to your core values and intergrating that into the department. With his decision making, he’s had to cut sports, he’s transitioned football and basketball coaches, and changed conferences in his tenure. Those types of decisions most AD’s don’t have to make, not all in one job. The example of those decisions truly shows how he’s 100% behind his core values.
In terms of Mike Bombinski, he’s been able to hire some great basketball coaches and being part of the process of hiring Josh Pastner, I learned that you’ve got to trust the process and you can’t take any short cuts when hiring coaches. What ever you need to be 100% comfortable with your hiring decision, you’ve got to do it, and if it doesn’t feel right then you don’t make the decision. Once you feel good about it that’s when you pull the trigger.
Lastly, with Todd, you’ve got to care about your people and you’ve got to create a vision. Even in the short term, he’s spent a lot of time with our staff, he’s met with every staff person one-on-one and showing that he cares. He’s also created a vision of where we want to go and that’s been invaluable.
As you take those bits and pieces, how do you make them yours? I think the overarching thing with all of them is they are authentically themselves and not trying to be anyone else.