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Arizona launches fund-raising initiative to ‘turn fans into supporters’

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne is trying to grow the Wildcat Club.
Photo by Mark Evans, TucsonCitizen.com

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne launched a volunteer fund drive Wednesday, aiming to increase membership in the Wildcat Club through small donations.

“We know that the economic times are challenging, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop here and stay still,” Byrne said at a news conference. “We have to continually be moving forward in what we’re doing.”

The broad theme of Arizona’s initiative is “turning fans into supporters.”

Using a database of 163,000 e-mails — “these are people who have been engaged with our athletic department but haven’t translated to being a Wildcat Club member,” Byrne said — Arizona sent out a video to kick start the fund raising effort.

You can watch the video at wildcatmovement.com.

By the close of business Wednesday, Ryan Hansen, the associate athletic director for annual giving and major gifts, reported that the Wildcat Club had about 60 new members, including one who donated $1,000.

Arizona has about 7,200 members in the Wildcat Club. Byrne has stair-stepped goals:

– 9,000 members by June 30
– 10,500 by June 30, 2012
– 12,000 by June 30, 2013

Membership starts at $100 annually — $50 for those who have graduated from Arizona within the past five years.

“Just think about that,” Byrne said. “Add 5,000 new members at $100 apiece — and most folks come in well above that — that’s an extra half-million in new revenue for us.”

Byrne said he has 112 volunteers in several states, including Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and California, trying to recruit new members. Those volunteers will be matched in competition to bring in the most members, the most money.

“I’ve told any of our volunteers, if it takes the athletic director calling and saying, ‘Hey, please join the Wildcat Club,’ give me their name and number and we’ll do that.”

Reaching 12,000 members would make the Wildcat Club larger than any comparable program in the Pac-10, Byrne said.

“We’re in such a great position here because we’re in Tucson with almost a million people,” Byrne said.

“We do have the Tucson Padres — and I want to make sure I say that — but in a lot of ways for much of the year, we’re the only game in town. What an advantage that is for us; so few other schools have that ability.

“It’s our responsibility to capitalize on that.”

One of Byrne’s points of emphasis Wednesday was that the Wildcat Club was not just for the wealthy or those who pay for the best seats in the house.

Much of what Byrne has done, in not quite a year on the job, has centered on inclusiveness.

Key athletic department personnel will, for the second consecutive year, tour the state in a week-long blitz. This spring, Byrne, men’s basketball coach Sean Miller, football coach Mike Stoops and women’s basketball coach Niya Butts will hit Douglas, Sierra Vista, Nogales, Yuma, Prescott, Flagstaff and Phoenix.

He initiated the Wildcat Walk before home football games, allowing fans to line the street and reach out and high-five players as they head to the stadium. He encourages fans to wear cardinal and navy on Fridays.

He is on Twitter. The athletic department has exponentially increased its Facebook presence, adding plenty of original content and videos (and thousands of “likes”) during the men’s basketball team’s postseason run.

Byrne’s weekly newsletter, Wildcat Wednesday, reaches about 90,000 fans via e-mail.

Now, he hopes that spirit of inclusiveness translates to donations.

A new Pac-12 media rights deal could be windfall for the league schools — read about the status of the negotiations from Jon Wilner at the San Jose Mercury News — but there are plenty of projects, Byrne said, where the extra income from the Wildcat Club would be useful in terms of facility upgrades across all the sports.

As an example, he mentioned needed new lights at the women’s soccer stadium could run about $350,000.

The athletic department usually walks a fine budgetary line. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, Arizona had revenues of $56,362,700 and expenses of $55,162,898.

“This solidifies us financially for a lot of years to come if we get this off the ground correctly,” Byrne said of the Wildcat Club fund drive.

“There is a huge upside for us. We just need to take advantage of that.”

For more information and benefits of joining the Wildcat Club, visit the official website.

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