Colorado Athletic Director Mike Bohn is targeting late September to formally announce a multi-million dollar facilities upgrade that he views as a long-term solution to many of his department's challenges as well as some of those being confronted elsewhere on the Boulder campus.
At an informal luncheon/media briefing on Tuesday at Denver's Blake Street Tavern, Bohn covered a wide range of athletic-related topics, highlighted by a long-discussed facilities plan that would reconfigure Folsom Field into a bowl and link the existing complex, including the Dal Ward Athletics Center, with a permanent indoor practice facility atop an underground parking structure.
Bohn called the project "transformational" and said "campus connectivity" is critical in the plan. CU faces "some significant challenges associated with classroom space, based on the growth of the campus," Bohn said. "We believe the stadium footprint is a potential solution to that, in a big way."
Financing for the project is still being studied, with Bohn citing "the private piece, the department piece" and what is expected to be a healthy television revenue stream from CU's membership in the Pac-12 Conference. In the first year (2013), CU is expected to receive at least $20 million - a figure exclusive of whatever else the school realizes from possibly participating in a BCS bowl, the NCAA Tournament, etc.
A feasibility study for the ambitious facilities project, said Bohn, is being done through the CU Foundation, the fund-raising arm he said has grown from five staffers to 14 since he arrived in the spring of 2005. He also said the Foundation has "made major investments in helping us raise money . . . anytime you're working on a project of this scope, private funds are a big part of that."
Bohn called fund-raising for the massive upgrade "extremely complex" and emphasized that his discussing an announcement almost six months out is "not going to be an empty promise and that's one I take pride in . . . It's not a dream, it's not a vision; it's a project that we're working hard on (and) that's our No. 1 priority."
CU President Bruce Benson, Chancellor Phil DiStefano and the school's Board of Regents "are right at the table with us, they're in the trenches with us," Bohn said. "That's inspiring to me and it should be very, very positive to all those who have the ability to engage with our program. That's imperative . . . let there be no mistake about that."
Bohn acknowledged that the athletic department is still repaying an $8 million loan (with interest) from campus as well as "dealing with a significant buyout ($14-$15 million)" to leave the Big 12 Conference and join the Pac-12 last summer. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic that all the financial "moving parts" will be pulled together and allow the fall announcement of a project that had its genesis in former CU Athletic Director Dick Tharp's Vision 2010.
"I'd say we've made enough progress to continue to be aggressive in moving this forward, but it's clearly not materialized at this point," Bohn said. "We're talking private dollars, also investments from the athletic department budget, the Pac-12 television revenue as well. (It's) enough to keep us going but we have a lot of work to do there."
In addition to giving Folsom a facelift, the project would help pull together athletic department offices that currently, conceded Bohn, are "all over the gates (at Folsom)." Also in line for renovation on Folsom's west side would be antiquated Balch Fieldhouse and the Flatirons Club. And the Coors Events Center, which last summer was joined to a basketball/volleyball practice facility, also is undergoing more modifications to accommodate the Pac-12 Network.
"You start getting an idea of the scope of the whole plot we're trying to build and why it's significant in what we're putting together," Bohn said. "(But) the vision is it's beyond just a facility piece. It's a comprehensive presentation of organizational effectiveness and organizational strategy, having a staff that can deliver all the things we're talking about in addition to the facility piece."
On a staff-related note, Bohn said the athletic department will add a senior level staff member - a chief marketing officer - likely in early summer. Bohn credited the current marketing staff, directed by Prema Khanna, and called the addition of a CMO "an enhancement for her." The department, he said, recognizes that with basketball's success and growth, the anticipated "transformational pieces" for Folsom Field and the startup of the Pac-12 Network, CU "must be more aggressive in the marketplace - and we're going to be."
Football, he said, is "tracking well, but we realize we have a ways to go there . . . we don't want to wait until things start to turn around and we're getting into bowl cycles" before there is the realization that more marketing resources are needed.
The new CMO's areas of responsibilities, said Bohn, will include development, the ticket office and the athletic media relations office. The new hire, he added, "will take a lead role in corporate outreach and initiatives associated with activation of sponsors. We're going to ramp up our marketing efforts through the CMO significantly and then we're going to continue to look for effectiveness in the operation and how we build that and how we do things on a daily basis. You'll see a significant shift, probably starting this summer associated with that."
He wants CU to capitalize coast-to-coast on its athletics message and build on the excitement generated by the postseason run of the men's basketball team: "From L.A. to Boston, we've got to find a way to continue to fuel the excitement we have," Bohn said. "We got a taste of it Albuquerque and in four nights (in Los Angeles) with the Pac-12 tournament and what that means."
The school has targeted graduates from 1986-1994, with Bohn calling the period "our heydays in football . . . lots of great things were going on there. We're going to try and take that segment and hit 'em hard . . .
"When you look at Colorado's best days, when we got it all going on the same page, we're pretty darn good . . . when we've got full houses, when we've got everybody behind this, we're pretty good. Obviously, we want to build in more consistency rather than have ups and downs."
Other topics Bohn addressed on Tuesday included:
- The CU men's basketball team led the nation in attendance increases during the period from 2009-2012. The Buffs' comparative four-year rise was 68 percent, from 4,637 in 2009 to 7,804 in 2012. In a distant second place was St. John's, which went from 5,418 in '09 to 7,804 in '12 - an increase of 45 percent. CU sold out a school-record home game in 2011 and four in 2012. And Bohn said the administration wants to make sure it "doesn't lose any traction" gained over the past two seasons in student support. He said a "student-friendly" plan already was being studied for next season's Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. A "reunion" is planned for Monday for the 50 members of the C-Unit that went to L.A. and had a significant impact on this season's Pac-12 tournament. "We want to fuel that, keep that alive," Bohn said.
- The CU women's home attendance ranked second in the Pac-12 behind Stanford this season. The Buffaloes averaged 2,679 for 18 home dates and 3,346 in nine Pac-12 home games, both figures trailing only Stanford (4,250 overall; 4,345 league). CU's 2011-12 attendance figure, ranking 44th in the nation, was the program's best since the 2003-04 team drew 3,092 over 16 home games. Bohn said to get the women's home attendance up, "We have to continue our entertainment, obviously making the games good. We need the team to play inspired, fundamentally strong basketball, which is what Linda (Lappe) is all about. She's making progress with that." He also said work needs to continue with CU's sponsors, such as State Farm. CU is hosting an NCAA women's regional next spring, and Bohn said the Buffs' goal is to be in that field at the Coors Events Center.
- CU's master renovation plans include expanding the Events Center weight room and adding an additional strength and conditioning coach. Also, the CEC is being looked at to house the women's lacrosse program, which begins competition in the spring of 2014. Training space and team meeting space in the CEC will be expanded.
- Also included in the CEC renovation is the addition of a ground-level studio that will be associated with the startup of the Pac-12 Network. Bohn called the expansive studio "a huge media hub" that will accommodate the taping of CU's coaches shows and will be the new headquarters for BuffVision. Bohn said the Pac-12 Network has not yet solidified a deal with DirecTV, but he called it "one of the top priorities . . . we hope to have an announcement about the DirecTV element in that. But in the Denver marketplace, the deal is with Comcast."
- Bohn expressed excitement that CU's women's golf team "is scratching at a Top 10 ranking." The Buffs are ranked No. 11. CU is hosting the NCAA Women's West Regional May 10-12 at Colorado National Golf Course in Erie. Bohn called that a "significant opportunity for our team." CU is eyeing a grand opening associated with the new indoor practice facility there.
- At a Pac-12 meeting in early May, CU will learn more about basketball scheduling for the 2012-13 season. Bohn said "a lot of unknowns" remain about scheduling, particularly the proposed Big Ten/Pac-12 hoops alliance. He also reiterated that every Buffs football game this fall will be nationally televised via the Pac-12 Network.
- New video boards at Folsom Field will go up two weeks after the Bolder Boulder, traditionally run on Memorial Day weekend. Bohn said the new boards "will transform the experience for our fans" and that the accompanying sound piece still is being explored.
- New Field Turf is going in this summer to replace the artificial surface on the football practice field covered by the bubble during the winter months.
- CU is planning a reunion of its 1970 football team at this fall's UCLA game at Folsom Field. (Saturday, Sept. 29; Pac-12 home opener). Also in football, Bohn said last season's season ticket sales of 25,172 was the school's largest total since 2003. He said sales for the 2012 season were "doing well."
- Bohn believes there will be a "major uptick" in volleyball this fall. "We've been waiting on this recruiting class for a while . . . traditionally the elite players commit in their sophomore year of high school. So when you get them, you've already invested a year in recruiting them, then you've got to wait two more years for it come together. I anticipate our volleyball being on a major uptick." He said joining the Pac-12 had obviously been difficult for the tennis program, but he expects improvement there also.
- When might CU reinstate its baseball program, which was cut in 1980? Don't hold your breath. "Our future sports are certainly on our game board, but we're going to focus on the 17 we have now," Bohn said. "But we'll be prepared and if a major gift materializes . . . right now (baseball) is not within that organizational effectiveness that we're talking about."