Gaucho hoops received some great quotes from Mark Massari, the current UCSB Athletics Director. In this exclusive interview, Massari discusses the success of the men's soccer program, the rising men's basketball program, the marketing initiatives, and what it means to be a Gaucho Loco.
He also provides an interesting perspective on the Civil War rivalry between Oregon State University (where he was Sr. Associate AD) and the University of Oregon (the Gauchos are playing in a tournament next week in Eugene, OR), and draws some parallels with the intensifying "Blue-Green" rivalry between UCSB and Cal Poly-SLO.
One can sense the passion which Massari brings to enhancing the Gaucholoco experience for students, the community, alumni, and all Gaucho fans. In just two short years, Massari has done a great job of elevating Gaucho pride, fund-raising, and increasing fan support. He deserves a big shout out from the Gaucholoco community.
Enjoy the interview, and Go Gauchos!
(GH): The Athletics Department has marketed UCSB and the surrounding SB community as "Soccer Heaven", and is a big reason for the success of the program and the surge in attendance. What marketing programs are being implemented for UCSB men's basketball, another major revenue-producing program?
(MWM): I love what we have here in soccer and our advertising agency (Citrus in Portland, Ore) who does a lot of our branding took the next step from our "Soccer Town" angle we did to get the College Cup and came up with "This is Soccer Heaven." And we're going to stay with it. It's as perfect a tag line as you can get to describe us, Santa Barbara and the love affair with our program. I've actually told our marketing guys I want a big "This is Soccer Heaven." sign to replace the face of the old scoreboard at Harder. I want that to be our Hollywood sign or better yet "The Swamp" like at Florida. I want it in the face of the opposing teams. But with all that said, UCSB is a basketball school first and foremost. What a successful hoops program can do for campus, our alumni and future is too important. This year our season ticket push is around come see these "Marked Men", they can't hide anymore, everyone knows how good they are, etc. We put out some strong print ads and radio spots around that theme and sales are up 15% over last year. And we've decided on a Big West mini-plan offer that will hit hard with some videos and tv along with radio soon. Another run at the title will push the buzz even higher and winning some big games against UNLV, SDSU and Oregon will help get attention outside of SB.
(GH): You also mentioned in a recent New York Times article that the atmosphere at Harder Stadium soccer matches as "electric," with thousands of scarves. How can that atmosphere be replicated in the Thunderdome, considering it is an indoor venue and can get even louder?
(MWM): On the student side, we revamped our student approach this year as establishing every student as a "Loco" and giving them a free tee shirt and other giveaways if they give us their email. Right now we have over 6,000 emails. I really like that angle. It's similar to Duke and the Cameroon Crazies, Utah has The MUSS. Its the entire student body together-type of thing. Because of what started in the 80's and 90's and now with soccer, the Locos are recognized nationally. We just need to tighten it up and give it more structure. We also re-assigned a marketing position to solely focus on rally and campus marketing. His team has some great ideas such as the "Unleash the Locos" theme for the students. Two years ago, we had zero emails and no real way of marketing to the students. Every good idea takes a little time to take hold, and we need to adjust the way we promote games and student involvement here. It will actually get really good in the next two years, but we've got a good start. We stole some of the ideas UC Davis did when they passed that landmark referendum ten years ago and created their strong Aggie Pack. We're different here at UCSB, but the goal is the same. Know the team, get to the game, its free, know the traditions, songs and wear GOLD. We actually averaged 200 additional students at games last year over the previous year. But what we learned was they where shy or maybe new to a game and would sit up high or not in the student section at all. At least we got them there, and they'll find their way, but we at least we need to get them in the right color shirt - Gold. That's why the Loco Pack t-shirt this year started with that slogan "Wear Gold. Bleed Blue". More gold in the student section looks good. The new students will get comfortable, learn the chants and songs and start to bring the energy. It starts at being there and wearing Gold. We also completely fund the Friday edition of the Nexus and in return we get front page ads and stories all about Gauchos that weekend. The thunder is returning to the Dome. I want it badly. I grew up on Big Monday's on ESPN and remember those games. Our fans, donors and season tix holders (75% of which are not our alumni, and just the community supporting us), want to be part of something big and see the students fired up. That's why we focus so much now on the students.
(GH): In light of budget cuts within the AD, what initiatives are being undertaken to raise funds for scholarships and other expenses?
(MWM): We tighten our belt on a lot of sports this year financially, but I didn't on several visual sports such as soccer, basketball and baseball. We need them funded and aggressively bringing success to the campus. We held steady on scholarships this year, didn't take any monies away and actually incurred the new Regents 15% fee hike. Donations through the Gaucho Fund which supports each program individually was strong and we have close to 800 donors right now. Winning and maintaining a successful overall program (which we are) is very delicate. We are fighting on two big fronts right now. We need more scholarship funds (which we get through the Gaucho Fund) and we need to upgrade our facilities badly. The ICA Building (athletics department home) which the students voted to build and fund several years ago, is perfect and puts us in a really good position. We have to recruit the best students and athletes. And lately basketball, both programs, along with swimming, water polo, both volleyballs and sometimes baseball have beat out some Pac-10 schools, UNLV, San Diego State, WCC schools and a few other BCS level schools. Very seldom in several sports do we compete for recruits with schools in our own conference. It's a good feeling and the ICA building has been mentioned by the recruits and coaches as leveling the playing field somewhat. But the facilities themselves are the next big attack. We need them enhanced, including the Thunderdome. We just did a very fast fundraising campaign on Harder Stadium for the College Cup. Almost two million went into it and it really puts our soccer programs on a national level to recruit the best. This spring we are asking the students to vote on a referendum to enhance seven athletics venues. If successful we'll kickoff another 10 million effort to our donors in what we're calling the "Walk of Champions" plan. We're also including some stronger marketing support for the students in the referendum such as stronger band, cheer and special events (i.e. bus rides to more games and free post season tickets). Student votes are tricky and an up hill climb. But a strong athletics program is worth investing in. Nationally we are there academically. Now that message can also be told through us playing in the NCAA tourney a lot more. We are a cause worth investing in and if we pass this one, we'll fix a lot of fields and venues and create a nice look to our facilities. And we will kick even more butt and win across the board - nationally. It's the only thing missing. We have every other asset a recruit would want.That's where "Dare to Be Great" comes from. It's what we aspire to be. What do we want the world to think of this place. Champions in every area. I truly believe that. It just takes one generation to do something for the next generation. Something they will be proud to see as alumni. I'm hoping today's students feel that way.
(GH): With last season's success in the men's basketball program, can you provide some color on what is being done to harness the momentum from the BW championship and NCAA appearance? Also, what challenges have emerged as a result of the success? Scheduling?
(MWM): I'll discuss scheduling in the next question. But the recruits we've been able to talk, who will look at us, are a different breed. This is from Bob. If just fundraised and completed a team lounge and film rooms for the players in the Thunderdome. We now have commitments to re-do the men's locker room, which hadn't been touched in almost 25 years. If we keep moving on our facilities the sky's the limit for us in terms on being on a good recruits short list.
(GH): Speaking of scheduling, as a rising mid-major, Coach Williams has expressed some frustration with scheduling BCS (high-major) programs. Can you comment on that?
(MWM): More tv games and bringing in some big name teams will help. Coach Willams has a really good plan. But he/and I admit its hard considering the success we've had and how the team looks good for several years to come. BCS level teams would rather play at home, pay for someone to come in and know they have a good shoot at beating them. With us, and other mid-major successes', they don't know that. UNLV is coming next year. We'll start with that great rivalry.
(GH): Also, while programs like Butler and Gonzaga have transcended the mid-major label, they appear to have overcome the scheduling issues. They have become the gold standard that other mid-majors aspire to basketball-wise. Is there anything UCSB can do to increase our chances of achieving that level of success (admittedly a high standard)?
(MWM): We must win against top 25 teams. Or crack top 25. That type of success is what will take us to that rare-air of Butler and Gonzaga. If/when we do that, you'll see a big boost in our fundraising and enhancing facilities even more. Until then, we are committed to building up every year. The ICA Building was step one. Upgrading T-Dome a little bit at a time is step two. I like where Bob and keeping the staff together can take us. I'm right there with him in the goal of taking the next big step.
(GH): Finally, as a former Sr. Associate AD at OSU, do you have any pre-game comments for UCSB's participation on McArthur Court in Eugene at the University of Oregon's tournament? Also, can you speak to the Civil War with U of O, and discuss the similarities with our brewing rivalry with Cal Poly-SLO?
(MWM): MAC court is crap. Now that quote just came from a guy who spent seven years as a Beaver and battling the Ducks. MAC court is just old and the Ducks, like they always do, did a great job of marketing it as this historic place, noisy loud, etc. They can get noisy in there and they have great support. My brother is a Duck and played football at UC Davis. He and I have some interesting talks when we go head to head. Actually the new AD at Oregon, Rob Mullins, and I worked together at Miami. So I'm rooting for them now a little. The Civil War is purely a divided house. Families across the state are split. Married a Duck, brothers a Beaver, etc. When I moved there, SI had a poll of Oregonians where 94% said the Civil War football game is the most important thing to happen in the state each year. Cal Poly and UCSB is intense too. CP's AD and I were just discussing that the other day the fact that both our students are starting to actually call it the "Blue-Green Rivalry" which is cool. I was at our soccer matches in SLO recently and they really wanted to beat us. And not just because we are a successful program nationally, I felt it was simply because we're their neighbor. They had a series of videos on the scoreboard before the game where their students where talking about beating the Gauchos. That's perfect. I love that. They have a nice set up up there. College town, good support and they are really competitive in a lot of sports, led by soccer. If they can get basketball up and running more and compete like we do against LB, the rivalry will become even more intense and take off even more.