Loftin to make fan experience a focus for new AD

The average attendance at Mizzou football games last season was 65,285, which was 10th in the Southeastern Conference. Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin would like new Athletic Director Mack Rhoades to improve that ranking.

Loftin spoke with reporters before spring break and said that he wants Rhoades to enhance the in-seat experience at sporting events, specifically at Faurot Field.

“I’ve asked Mack (Rhoades) to put that at a very high priority,” Loftin said. “We need to make it very special to be in a seat (at Faurot Field) for three hours on a Saturday.”

Loftin hinted at the possibility of increasing the Wi-Fi capability at Faurot, as the lack of bandwidth during games was a widespread complaint among fans. During the press conference, Loftin discussed the challenges and expectation for Rhoades, who was announced as Mike Alden’s replacement on March 10 and will officially take the reins on April 27.

Although cell service at Faurot was improved in fall 2013, Loftin warmed to the idea that improved Wi-Fi at the stadium might be one way to better Mizzou’s attendance record at games. Loftin himself frequently appears at athletic events and often moves his way throughout the stands to speak with students and fans.

Mizzou expanded the capacity at Faurot before the start of last season, implementing another 6,000 seats to the upper level. However, Mizzou’s attendance record, despite coming off a Southeastern Conference East Division title, remained low.

Loftin, who played a major role in Rhoades’ selection, also discussed specific criteria that made Rhoades a highly-sought after replacement, including that he has experience with development of stadiums. While serving as the athletic director at the University of Houston, Rhoades coordinated the construction of two stadiums. In addition to the need to improve the in-seat experience at Faurot, Mizzou is looking to build a new football facility to complement the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex, in order to attract potential recruits.

“We’ve held that (construction) back deliberately until a new athletic director got here,” Loftin said.

The chancellor also mentioned the need for Rhoades to become acclimated with the head coaches at Mizzou. This could potentially be a challenge for Rhoades, who was not hired from the “Mike Alden tree” of replacement candidates, as he lacks the luxury of having already worked in Mizzou’s athletic department. Loftin said Rhoades now assumes the responsibility to help coaches get their programs to the next level.

However, while a certain priority will be placed on rendering the success of student-athletes both on and off the field, Loftin also hopes that Rhoades will be able to help student-athletes become more integrated with the rest of the student body. He encouraged general students to go to games with friends in order to maintain a better attendance record, specifically at Faurot Field for football games, where Loftin mentioned the lack of sellouts this past season.

In addition, Loftin also addressed the need for providing resources to athletes to help them have the opportunity to succeed in their studies.

“We need to be very good about giving our student-athletes the access they need during their season to be competitive academically as well as athletically,” Loftin said. “The most important thing we can do is leave each student with a meaningful degree. That’s the most valuable thing you can give to these individuals. It’s something you can’t lose over time.”

Touching upon an area of major concern in the last few years, Loftin challenged Rhoades to take a major stance regarding Title IX concerns. The Columbia Police Department announced the closing of the Title IX sexual assault case involving former Mizzou swimmer Sasha Menu Courey the same day as the press conference. Appearing in an “Outside the Lines” report by ESPN, the story brought national attention to the university and has been the subject of much controversy since.

“We have made extraordinary progress in the last year, but there is still more to do,” Loftin said. “You can’t be satisfied until (sexual assault) is totally gone.”

Loftin specifically described changes that must be made concerning the portrayal of athletes as the main perpetrators of sexual assault cases.

“Our head coaches have expectations for our players,” Loftin said. “They have taken that challenge on. I’m proud our coaches have made tough choices that have probably hurt our performance (on the field).”

The chancellor also described the future revenue outlook in terms of funds generated for the athletic department. Although he was obligated to not provide specific details, Loftin did say that the university will have an extensive gain in revenue from the August launch of ESPN’s SEC Network, which has prominently featured Mizzou athletic events on television.

“I think the revenue picture is bright for the athletic department,” Loftin said.

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