Thursday, October 21st 2021 (official release), will forever be a monumental day in Charlotte’s athletics history. Mike Aresco, the Commission for the American Athletic Conference (AAC) introduced Charlotte, FAU, Rice, UAB, UNT and UTSA. The move comes on the heels of the Big 12 plucking Cincinnati, Houston and UCF out of the AAC. While the timelines are not yet confirmed, it’s anticipated that the 6 programs will enter during the 2023-24 season, though this likely predicated on Oklahoma and Texas’s exit from the Big 12.
A look at the AAC
As of now, Charlotte and our C-USA comrades will be joining: ECU, Memphis, SMU, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa, Navy (football only) and Wichita State (all sports except football). The move will put Charlotte back in a conference with more peer institutions (large metro programs) in which we have a more history with. Gaining an in-state rivalry right off the bat with ECU will be tremendous and a boost to gate revenue across all programs. The level of brand recognition of our fellow AAC programs will increase as well, which should help increase ticket sales and attendance as well.
Let’s get into what I feel should be priorities
If you look at the 3 teams leaving the AAC to head to the Big 12, they had the 3 top budgets in the AAC. Resources drive growth and success, and Charlotte will need to grow their budget by more 60% to get UCF’s level of just over $64m. Cincinnati lead the way in 2019-20 with just over $74m and Houston was second at just over $66m.
For the record, Charlotte was 3rd in C-USA at just over $39m—, trailing ODU’s $49m & UNT’s $39.9m mark for expenses. Charlotte’s enrollment growth will continue to provide incremental increases in budget from student fees, however the administration will have to create additional streams of resources from corporate and individual donors. I’ll touch on that more in my next priority.
2. Premium Seating
Halton Arena nor Jerry Richardson Stadium currently have premium seating options. This is a tremendous way to consistently lock in dollars via individual/corporate donations to secure premium seating, whether that be suites, loge boxes, club level, etc. It’s a revenue stream/generator that we simple don’t have today at our top 2 venues, and undoubtedly will need to be address to help drive more resources for the athletic department moving forward.
3. Facilities: Upgrades & Net-new construction
Let’s start with the more obvious piece to the puzzle here, Jerry Richardson Stadium (JRS) expansion. Currently the stadium seats 15,314, far an away smaller than any stadium in the AAC. The largest stadiums in the conference are off-campus facilities: Temple at Lincoln Financial Field (68,532), USF at Raymond James Stadium (65,857) and Memphis at Liberty Bowl (62,380). ECU is home to the largest on-campus stadium as Dowdy Ficklin Stadium seats 50,000 and Tulane’s Yulman Stadium is the smallest at 30,000. I’d anticipate that when expansion does happen at JRS we’ll see stadium capacity to to 30-35,000. I have zero doubt that JRS and the small capacity is used consistently against Charlotte and the staff on the recruiting trail. Putting JRS in-line with our peers from a capacity standpoint will put the program on a leveled playing field.
The next step for the Football program would be an Indoor Practice Facility (IPF). While I’m not certain of the status of IPF’s across the AAC, I do know that ECU does not have one and UAB has an open-air facility, so I personally wouldn’t count that as an IPF. An IPF would allow for year-round usage for football and when necessary be shared with other programs. Worth noting that Baseball and Softball already have their own IPF’s.
I touched on Halton earlier, premium seating is 100% needed in that venue as well. The question becomes how to incorporate that into the existing infrastructure. People smarter than I am will figure that out! While Basketball uses Haywood Memorial Court at the the Miltimore-Wallis Center, it’s also shared with volleyball as well. For Charlotte to take the next step in elevating basketball and positioning the program as a top G5, there will need to be enhancements beyond Halton, and that could end up being a standalone basketball facility for practice, weight room, food/nutrition, training table, etc.
With the performance of Robert Woodard’s baseball program and the ability for baseball programs to turn into revenue generators for athletic departments, I’d prioritize their needs as well. The Hayes is a great place to catch a game, but with the success of the program we’re going to need more seating (a student section similar to ECU would be tremendous), improved concessions (permanent Norm’s Tavern please), new video board, and some sort of grandstand awning would help continue the growth of the program, which just happens to be a preseason top 25 team this season.
Rising tide lifts all ships is the approach here for me, making enhancements to our money generating programs will allow us to be better positioned for upgrades to the remaining programs. Beyond our revenue sports there are likely to be many projects of varying sizes, like the new Softball locker rooms and offices project that will help alleviate some space constraints for that program. You could also see a stadium built just for Soccer (and potentially Women’s Lacrosse), this would free up Irwin Belk Track and Field Center/Transamerica Field for the Track and Field program.
How would you prioritize things?
Come join us on Discord to talk over things and what you feel is most important to prioritize in the process.