Nobody Will Wait For You To Catch Up
It is said that football is religion in Texas. The sport’s roots run deep in the state and it produces some of the best talent in the high school, college and professional ranks annually. Naturally, there is plenty of interest in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
However, to get people out of the sports bar and into a stadium on a 100-degree Saturday, football programs must provide more than a seat. This is what University of North Texas athletic director Wren Baker spends each day focusing on.
“In athletics, nobody gets to a place and waits for you to catch up or let you get ahead of them. Everybody is fighting every day to make things better,” he said.
Since Baker took the reigns at the University of North Texas in 2016, the program has emphasized the gameday experience to reengage an alumni base that had been bearish on spirit towards athletics.
“One of the keys for North Texas long-term is we have 40,000 students and we have a ton of alums and yet a lot of them were relatively disengaged from athletics, at least they were when we came in,” Baker said. “The primary reason was we had not been historically competitive enough to maintain that interest.”
Forging A New Era
Winning has come to Denton, marked by a 9-5 season in 2017. Now, with a new turf field and other luxury additions to Apogee Stadium, Baker hopes the Mean Green can sell out a home game for the first time since the new facility was built in 2011.
“Last year we actually brought in Cabanas in the end zone, those sold out immediately, and then this year we’re adding a touchdown terrace. It’s just finding different ways to come up with premium seating,” Baker said. “There are people who want amenities that would like to have access to the club and have a nicer seat. But at the same time, they want to be in the action. They want to be down there close.”
When Baker arrived at UNT, his assessment of the state of the athletic department revealed some positives that he is hoping to build on. New facilities are being erected and winning records are hoping to be sustained. By marketing the athletic department in a more engaging and strategic way, he hopes more undergrads will find their way to Apogee.
“We try to find ways to find those branding, ‘Instagram-able’ moments, whether it’s a ‘Mean Green’ in front of our athletic center, whether it’s something with the turf we’ve done or recognizing former athletes like Joe Greene in certain ways,” Baker said. “Things that people want to take pictures of. They want to tweet out, they want to Instagram out and we really try to focus on facilities in that way and tell a story with them.”
Bringing The Community Together
One thing that is helping Baker and his pursuit of building a more engaged community is his view of Apogee as more than a football field. The brand-new turf will allow the facility to be a year-round venue instead of a venue for six home football games.
“We do think it’ll be a precursor for us to host more events. More high school games, more concerts,” Baker said.
The first major non-football event will take place after the home opener on Sept. 1, when Apogee will host a professional wrestling match at midfield. The match is partially made possible by the peace of mind the stronger and fresher playing surface provides.
Late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis was famous for saying, “Just win, baby.” In 2018, UNT is hoping that wins do come, but if they do not, that the new amenities at Apogee Stadium are enough to win fans over.
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