Between a trip to Georgia — the country, not the state — and dozens of meetings, Athletics director Jim Baker had little time to rest in one of UTA’s busiest summers in recent years.
A new head golf coach, new assistant coaches in volleyball and women’s basketball, and most recently, a new director of operations for women’s basketball were announced by the Athletics department leading up to the start of the fall semester.
None, however, caught the attention quite like the announcement of a partnership with a professional basketball team in the Women’s National Basketball Association.
The UT System Board of Regents approved the agreement late last week allowing the Tulsa Shock to call Arlington home for the next five years beginning in 2016. The Shock is currently located in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“We’ve been working on that for two years,” Baker said. “Not so much me, but the building, the university.”
Did you get all that?
Baker’s long term goal since his first day in 2012 as Intercollegiate Athletics director has been to reinforce the university’s place in the surrounding area by building relationships with alumni and the community.
Fast forward three years to #UTAMoveIn2015, and Baker’s team still has a long ways to go before meeting his goal, he said.
But after an active summer, Baker is hopeful the offseason moves made by the Athletics department will help meet the same goal shared by the university.
Filling the College Park Center
“Everything we’re doing is thinking about the big picture,” Baker said. “How can we get people here to our events? We have a great building here. I think what we do around the game is we make it a fun event. It’s just getting people in here and getting them to come back.”
The attendance issue at the College Park Center has been about as persistent as UTA’s efforts to fill the 7,500 seat arena. But if last year was any indicator, it appears UTA is headed in the right direction after raising its overall attendance average for home games.
Volleyball had an average of 559 fans attend home games last season, which was about 100 more than in 2013. While women’s basketball attendance was up 31 percent from the 2013-2014 season, men’s basketball experienced the largest overall increase in average attendance as more than 2,000 fans were counted for each home game.
Average attendance for men’s basketball games was notably fewer the second full season at the College Park Center compared to the first in 2012-2013 when the final average was marked at 1968.
About 100 fewer fans were accounted for the following season, UTA’s first in the Sun Belt Conference.
“We’ve made some great strides in the last couple years, but we have a long way to go,” Baker said. “We just have to continue to brand ourselves every day and get out there. That’s a lot of my summer. Meeting with different companies and different people in the community and just getting out there.”
Branding themselves will likely be easier next summer when the Tulsa Shock makes its way down Interstate 35 and begins sharing the same court as UTA. A move Baker believes will pay dividends in more ways than one as the Texas Rangers won’t be the only attraction for sports fans during the summer in Arlington.
“If you can get a new group of people in this building who have never been here and are basketball fans, that has to be a good thing for our women’s and men’s programs because you’re bringing basketball fans,” Baker said. “We have to work with the WNBA with how we’re going to cross promote each other. They’re in the summer and our season is obviously November through March so how can we work with them so that it’s good for both of us.”
Promotions, however, are only half the battle.
UTA’s marketing efforts to improve overall attendance at the College Park Center has produced results about as varying as the team records the past three seasons for volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball.
And regardless of the efforts the university puts into promoting its teams, attendance undoubtedly comes down to one thing, Baker said.
“People like winners. And again, we’re competing for the entertainment dollars and so we have to have a good product on the field and on the court and wherever,” Baker said. “People like winners and we need to win.”
Which is why announcements about promotions and hiring coaches appeared so often this past summer for UTA.
Krista Gerlich, women’s basketball head coach, announced the promotion of Kristin Cole to associate head coach in June. Cole joined the coaching staff in 2013 and helped contribute to UTA’s surprise turnaround last season that included 17 wins.
Former Auburn University standout, Sarah Bullock, was also hired in June by volleyball head coach Diane Seymour to join her coaching staff, giving Seymour two new assistants this season. Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Keith Anderson was hired in February this year after serving as a volunteer assistant coach last year at Rice University.
Stuart Deane, whose hiring was officially announced in May, will oversee the men’s golf team as well as the university’s first women’s golf team in 2017.
Together, Baker believes their hirings will help improve the programs they preside over, which, in turn, could help boost attendance and general interest in UTA Athletics.
“You can only get so much support if you’re not winning. That’s the bottom line,” Baker said. “Winning isn’t everything, but it helps and that’s what we’re here for. You’re in sports to compete. That’s why you play the game. You don’t play to lose, and I want our coaches, players who want to win. That’s the bottom line.”