MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When Shane Lyons became West Virginia University’s 12th director of athletics right around this time six years ago, his No. 1 goal – after an eye-opening tour of the campus – was to improve the Mountaineers’ lagging athletic facilities.
Since then, we’ve seen new structures sprouting up all around us, from a new aquatic center and outdoor track at Mylan Park to a series of extensive improvements to Milan Puskar Stadium and its adjoining Milan Puskar Center.
We’ve also observed a number of impressive enhancements in and around the WVU Coliseum complex that have already totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars so far.
These were things needed to simply keep West Virginia University athletics in line with its regional and national competitors.
“We’ve had to address (facility issues) in order to continue to grow and prosper,” Lyons explained. “In order to do that, we’ve prioritized our fundraising focus on facility renovations from those supporters with the capability to provide significant assistance.”
While these facility improvements continue to be a priority, Lyons and the Mountaineer Athletic Club can now focus on his second major goal: increasing membership in the Mountaineer Athletic Club.
That begins today with the unveiling of the Time 2 Climb campaign, a $21-per-month initiative ($252 per year) by the Mountaineer Athletic Club to increase overall annual membership in 2021.
What Lyons discovered when he began evaluating MAC’s membership compared to West Virginia University’s peer institutions was alarming. Not only was West Virginia at the bottom of the Big 12 in individual donors, in many instances, it was by a significant number!
These are the schools Neal Brown, Bob Huggins, Mike Carey, Randy Mazey, Nikki Izzo-Brown and the rest of the WVU coaches are competing against to get top players to keep their programs among the best in the nation. An expectation to be among the best in the country is why these coaches came to West Virginia University in the first place, and nothing less is expected of them from Mountaineer Nation!
Thanks to the generosity of the current MAC donor base, the Mountaineer Athletic Club remains competitive in annual fund dollars raised, even with these lower participation numbers.
“We are very thankful for the ongoing support of our current MAC members,” said Ben Murray, senior associate athletics director and executive director of the Mountaineer Athletic Club. “They continue to provide the necessary resources to maintain exceptional experiences for our student-athletes. This campaign gives all Mountaineer fans everywhere the opportunity to show their passion by becoming a member of Time 2 Climb.”
So as we turn the calendar to 2021 and begin looking forward to brighter days ahead, the time is now to fill up the Mountaineer Athletic Club just as we fill up Milan Puskar Stadium, the WVU Coliseum, Monongalia County Ballpark and Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
The Time 2 Climb campaign is focused on building a stronger membership group that is invested in West Virginia University athletics – a source of great pride to everyone from Weirton to Welch, Martinsburg to Matewan, and throughout the world.
The process is simple and affordable and provides a wide variety of benefits. A secure website has been developed specifically for the Time 2 Climb campaign detailing membership and tax benefits, as well as some of the exciting prize packages and contests being planned for this year.
“We are incredibly excited to launch WVUTime2Climb.com and to provide our fans with an affordable and easy way to support our student-athletes,” Murray said. “In addition to your support, each member will receive unique benefits and opportunities for grand prizes. We encourage all Mountaineer fans to join because each member makes a difference.”
Lyons details the three major ways the athletics department generates revenue. He refers to them as “buckets.”
In one bucket is West Virginia’s affiliation with the Big 12 Conference. Another bucket consists of revenue generated internally from season ticket sales, concessions, parking and its multimedia rights deal with Learfield IMG College.
The third bucket is fundraising.
Two of the three buckets have experienced a significant decline this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyons estimates the financial impact of the pandemic to the athletics department could approach $30 million by the end of fiscal year 2021. That was after a $5 million deficit to conclude the 2020 fiscal year as a result of lost revenue from the cancellation of the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.
This cannot be absorbed quickly nor can it be overcome overnight.
“It’s not a good situation,” Lyons admits. “Obviously, we’ve lost a lot of revenue over the last six to eight months as a result of the pandemic. That’s football and men’s basketball season ticket sales and the donations tied to that.
“A lack of fans at home athletics events has also impacted those other revenue areas such as concessions and parking, and even our multimedia rights,” he added.
Previously, Lyons has detailed all of the different ways his department has reduced costs to offset some of its losses, from budgetary and salary reductions to unfilled positions. No stone has been left unturned in this regard.
This is the new reality in collegiate athletics today.
Lyons points out there are approximately 1.8 million people living in 750,000 households in West Virginia. There are also thousands of Mountaineer fans in all 50 states and throughout the world.
If just 2% of West Virginia households contribute to the Time 2 Climb campaign, that would equate to roughly $3.78 million in additional revenue to support WVU’s hard-working and deserving student-athletes and coaches.
These numbers are important to understand because it shows the impact each new member can have on the athletic department.
“My goal is to raise our membership number to 12, 15 or even 18,000, and I know Mountaineer Nation is willing to respond,” Lyons said. “We were considering a Time 2 Climb campaign even before the pandemic hit last spring, and now, more than ever, we need Mountaineer Nation to help us chip into this deficit and help us continue to move our department forward.”
The climb has already started in football. There was marked improvement in Neal Brown’s program from year one to year two, and his strong efforts on the recruiting trail the last two seasons bode well for even greater success in the future.
Brown has once again built a wall around West Virginia by keeping our top prospects home, and in a couple of instances, some of those once-lost top prospects are even returning!
Bob Huggins has Mountaineer men’s basketball back in the Top 10 with an eye toward a deep run in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
“I want to build off the success and momentum we are generating,” Lyons said. “I’m excited where we are headed this year in men’s basketball, and I’m also excited to see what takes shape in football next fall. Neal now has a couple of really good recruiting classes in the fold.”
Nikki Izzo-Brown’s young women’s soccer team is poised to return to the NCAA Tournament when play resumes this spring, and Randy Mazey might have the best collection of baseball players in school history.
Other Mountaineer programs are also poised to do great things in the near future with a little additional wind in their sails.
“Right now is a vital time for all of us to come together,” Lyons said. “I want our department to be something in which all Mountaineer fans can be proud – in Morgantown, around the state and outside the state.
“It takes all of us to do that,” he added. “I believe we have the right coaches in the right spots and now is the time to help support them and our student-athletes from a resource standpoint.”
A strong, stable WVU athletics department helps equate to a stronger, more stable West Virginia University, and to a smaller degree, a stronger, more stable local economy when life once again returns to some sense of normalcy. To learn more about the Time 2 Climb campaign, log on to www.wvutime2climb.com or call the Mountaineer Athletic Club toll-free at 1-800-433-2072.