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Athletic Director Scott Barnes talks strategy - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

Athletic Director Scott Barnes talks strategy

An+attendee+asks+a+question+at+the+Town+Hall+Meeting+hosted+by+Pitt+Athletics+Director+Scott+Barnes+in+Alumni+Hall+Tuesday+night.++Jordan+Mondell+%7C+Staff+Photographer++
An attendee asks a question at the Town Hall Meeting hosted by Pitt Athletics Director Scott Barnes in Alumni Hall Tuesday night.  Jordan Mondell | Staff Photographer

An attendee asks a question at the Town Hall Meeting hosted by Pitt Athletics Director Scott Barnes in Alumni Hall Tuesday night. Jordan Mondell | Staff Photographer

An attendee asks a question at the Town Hall Meeting hosted by Pitt Athletics Director Scott Barnes in Alumni Hall Tuesday night. Jordan Mondell | Staff Photographer

By Elizabeth Lepro / Assistant Sports Editor

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Pitt Athletic Director Scott Barnes said he already knows Pitt’s fans and alumni care more than Utah State fans — now he’s asking them to prove it.

The former Utah State athletic director spoke to more than 150 Pitt fans and alumni about the Athletic Department’s six strategic goals in Alumni Hall Tuesday night at the first Pitt Athletics Town Hall Meeting in the Connolly Ballroom. Barnes planned the meeting to make the department’s plans for the upcoming year more transparent.

Mapping out his goals, Barnes said he’s going to “scrub” the organization to make the most out of Pitt’s staff and compete financially and ranking-wise in the ACC.

“The purpose … is to identify opportunities to strengthen our organization in order to become more effective and efficient,” Barnes said. “How do we deploy our staff to meet those strategic [goals] that we have?”

Barnes laid out goals for focusing on fan engagement, expanding the revenue base, improving athletes’ graduation rates and re-allocating resources. So far, Barnes said the athletic department has failed to solicit sufficient donations from Pitt’s alumni.

“[Moving to the ACC is] a significant lift,” Barnes said. “How are we going to bring the resources to compete at that level?”

Pitt is second in the ACC in total alumni, but second to last in total alumni donations.

“I’m licking my chops,” Barnes said. “That is an opportunity.”

Through fundraising, the Athletics Department plans to fund $8 to 10 million for facility improvements. A $4 million renovation is already underway at the swimming and diving facilities at Trees Hall, set for completion this fall.

Barnes said after the presentation that the numbers of new donors and gift-giving are up, but added that there hasn’t been a culture at Pitt for major gift fundraising in the past. The engagement rate out of 306,821 alumni was about 2.6 percent last year, close to half the average percentage for donor engagement.

Other efforts to increase revenue include amping up ticket sales. Barnes’ strategic plan includes an initiative to sell a record-breaking 53,775 season tickets for the upcoming football season.

The increased revenue will also go toward hiring more staff. The Athletics Department has made new hires in football, men’s soccer and softball, but is still lagging behind the average number of staff members at other ACC organizations by about 20.

“If you take the ACC … and you think about the average institution in the ACC and its staff positions — not coaching positions, staff positions — that we don’t have, that’s it,” Barnes said. “We’ve got to find the revenue to fill that gap.”

In August 2015, the Athletics Department instituted a fan experience committee, which Barnes said has significantly opened up lines of communication between fans and the administration.

“All of a sudden [fans] have a vehicle … now they’re a conduit,” Barnes said. Many of the audience members Tuesday night were members of the committee and Pitt alumni.

During a question and answer session after Barnes’ speech, alumni raised concerns about the lack of Pitt branding and marketing at Heinz Field, where the logo in the center of the green is small compared to other universities.

Barnes couldn’t offer any specifics about dressing up the stadium, but said there was “definitely room to grow”  with on-field branding.

Based on past fan input, Barnes also said he’s seriously looking into selling alcohol in the stadium during Pitt games.

Since Pitt moved to the ACC, football fans have jumped at the chance to once again play rival teams like Penn State. Barnes fielded questions about adding rival nonconference teams to Pitt’s basketball schedule.

“We’re failing a little bit in the fan interest,” Barnes said. How do you [increase] fan interest? Those rivalries.”

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Athletic Director Scott Barnes talks strategy