Room to grow: Changes are in the works as Louisiana-Lafayette athletic department reveals consultants’ suggestions _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- Fans cheer as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette plays the University of Akron in an NCAA football game Saturday, September 26, 2015, at Cajun Field in Lafayette, La.

LAFAYETTE — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette reached out to former Missouri athletic director Mike Alden several months ago, asking him to perform a wide-ranging analysis of the school’s athletic programs and the revenue they bring in.

On Monday, the university publicly released Alden’s findings, as well as those of several other consultants, in a 79-page report that offered guidelines for the school to follow as it tries to raise its sports profile.

“As we continue to grow and reach the next level of success, it was important to have an independent analysis of our department,” Athletic Director Scott Farmer said in a statement. “This report will be beneficial as we plan for the next five years.”

The analysis by Alden and the other consultants led to 20 strategic recommendations, as well as a timeline for those recommendations to start being implemented.

Eight of those recommendations — including beginning a priority seating program and formulating a plan to reduce institutional support by 22 percent in the next six years — were suggested to be implemented immediately. According to a news release, the priority seating program already is being implemented.

With the exception of the final recommendation to include local food vendors at sporting events, the remainder of the recommendations were suggested to be implemented in the next six months.

The university contacted Alden in June 2015 to analyze four areas, according to the report. It wanted Alden to perform a financial analysis, a comparative analysis between peer schools and aspirational conferences, an analysis on institutional support with an emphasis on self-sustainability and an analysis of the $115 million athletics facilities master plan.

After an on-site visit in August, Alden presented a proposal in September and recommended to also include financial, media and brand analyses. Three consultants were hired to perform those. Surveys also were conducted with competitors and included at the end of the report.

The report takes a close look at the school’s athletic budget as compared with peer institution Arkansas State, as well as a comparison between the Cajuns and aspirational conferences, using the average of five Conference USA schools, Houston of the American Athletic Conference and Kansas State of the Big 12 for comparison.

Each of those institutions had a higher athletic budget to work with thanks to larger institutional support and greater student fees. When looking at the comparative revenues and expenses between the Cajuns and Arkansas State, the report suggested the Cajuns could close that revenue gap by placing greater emphasis on non-ticket game-day revenue with things such as parking and sponsorships.

There was a large budgetary shortfall projecting Louisiana-Lafayette into the C-USA, AAC and Big 12, which the report suggested would have to be made up by increasing student fees and institutional support to levels consistent with schools of those leagues.

The report also suggested to immediately solve what it deemed to be an understaffing problem within the athletic department, as well as a comprehensive football season-ticket marketing and sales campaign and comprehensive game-day operations and marketing master plans.

Beyond the immediate recommendations, two consultants agreed that the university should invest in its own on-site production equipment “to produce a much broader range of UL Sports programming” between now and the beginning of football season.

“Ragin’ Cajuns athletics has had incredible growth in the past five years, ranging from facilities to brand recognition,” Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Foundation president Robert Daigle said in a statement. “This report will inspire us to do even more to support the Ragin’ Cajuns.”