After learning news of Buffalo's newest branding initiative, we got a chance to sit down and talk to UB's Athletic Director Allen Greene about people's concerns and the state of the athletic department. Below, you can find the full interview:
Robby Johnson (Bull Run): So how did we get to this point and what is purpose or vision in all of this?
Allen Greene: I think how we got to this point was through a twelve month process from the university side. I was involved in that from day one while in my previous position understanding that it's long overdue for the university to have a platform to tell our story in a compelling way. So as a part of that, it just it made sense that we all did it from one cohesive messaging standpoint. So that includes athletics, the law school, and architecture and planning. Their vision doesn't change. Our goal is to leverage athletics to raise the profile of our university. You do that by graduating students and by winning championships.
RJ: So one of the biggest concerns I've seen since the news came out is state money being wasted to switch over to this new brand. We have a football field and a basketball court with New York branding, so what is going to happen to that?
AG: I want to squash the concern over wasting state money. The circumstance with the football field is that it needed to be replaced last year and it just so happened to coincide with the second year of the New York centric word branding. If you remember the first year we actually spray painted some stuff on there and then we had the really bad winter. The lifespan of the turf had been exceeded. So that was a necessity, we were going to do the turf no matter what. The basketball court gets repainted every couple of years. It isn't money wasted. It's money that would have been spent as a part of normal maintenance. I don't want people to feel like it's like we're wasting money. We're working on a plan to update the football field. The basketball court needs to be sanded down and repainted again so there won't be an expense to that. It's about figuring out the best way and time to do it.
RJ: What about the uniforms?
AG: Those get rotated out on a schedule. It just so happens this year is time for a new football uniforms and those will be updated at no additional costs. For basketball, we have a generous relationship with Nike and we have those expenses covered. For other sports, as new uniforms are needed, then we'll get those as well. The other option obviously is to use donations. So if there's people in the community that feel like they want to see things happen faster, then I encourage them to support and we can certainly make things happen much faster.
RJ: So essentially the timing to change things up now is pretty good?
AG: Yeah, we thought about getting uniforms last year for football and we didn't. We stretched it out one more year. The timing worked out really well and we kind of thought about that going into it, but we do want to make sure we're being fiscally responsible.
RJ: We're now eighteen years into Division I athletics here at Buffalo and we have still yet to see the grassroots support that other organizations in the area like the Sabres in the Bills have. Now that we're switching back to this Buffalo oriented vision, how are you going to be able to grow support in the eyes of the regional fan?
AG: I think there's two pieces to that puzzle. The first piece is that we have to have competitive teams. We're able to attract some really good coaches and student athletes and we're going to see that payoff. So by having some competitive teams and a cohesive buffalo centric brand, it's beneficial for those in the community. I also think it allows us to work in concert with the university to create some pride in some of the folks that graduated from here.
RJ: So one of the selling points for the New York Bulls Initiative was that we are the number one, most comprehensive, public university. One problem for Buffalo when it comes to athletics is that it has generally been dismissed in favor of other programs, whether it be a local program that you know seeing some recent successes or Syracuse. How can you get people to realize that first of all, two straight NCAA tournament appearances in WNY are extremely rare and that Buffalo is the best local option for college athletics?
AG: We certainly need to spread the word. We need to be relevant. So it goes again goes back to winning and being able to tell our story. So my hope is that the people in the community recognize that our success rate is improving. We've been more successful these past two years than we have in the previous seventeen. This is also new for people in our community. For people's experience, college athletics was not either a part of their decision to come to UB or part of the experience while they're at UB. As [Buffalo] became division one, unfortunately we were not very competitive. [When it comes to the video the university did] there's an athletics component. That may not have always been the case. Those students that are coming to school here will recognize that, "Ok, there's athletics, that's great. Should i go to the game? Sure, let's do it. Was it fun? Yes. Did we win a championship? Yeah, I remember that". As they graduate they have a connection point. Sports as we know ties everybody together. You don't have to understand how games are played. You just need to know that you can hang out with your friends and have a good time and sports is that rallying point.That's what we need to establish and work towards. We hope to see that come to fruition here in the near future.
RJ: There are three other SUNY University Centers that field some kind of Division I athletics program. Now that we have a lost this New York branding, how else can we put ourselves in front of those schools?
AG: Robby, I would say we haven't lost it, we just shifted it with the tagline "New York's Public Powerhouse". That's designed to strike some balance to your point exactly. We are the only public program that has FBS football. The others do not. With our university and our stature, we feel like from an academic perspective we're the strongest university in the state. Our athletics department obviously has lagged. We're in a race essentially to improve that and accelerate that process as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, we can only go one year at a time. I think it's achievable by balancing a Buffalo centric word mark and a New York centric tagline.
RJ: We saw donations spike over 2000% since the initiative was implemented—
AG: (interrupts) Do you think they should spike another 2000? (laughs)
RJ: Well, of course, that would be great. So there's a lot of the facilities plans and left over from NYBI and many are probably wondering about their progress. The field house is almost there, we know that the tennis facility is largely funded, but it doesn't seem like that's moving forward. The softball and baseball fields are also in less than adequate condition.
AG: Trust me, as a baseball player, I know. Our strategic plan essentially does not change. The one piece that gets pulled out and readjusted a little bit is that branding piece. All those things are still in place and they're all critical needs. We want to be relevant in the community and we want to tie ourselves to local media. We want to build facilities, to get fan engagement, raise money, and to brand ourselves as New York's flagship institution. Those things still stay consistent. Do we call it something different? Sure. We're still attacking those things. From of the facilities perspective, this is where i think the community's involvement is very critical.
We have not been in a position for very long where we've been able to raise large amounts of money. That's where we need the community's involvement and their engagement. We haven't been successful for a long time but it's achievable and we need people's help. For those who are in the community that are excited about us having Buffalo back on the jersey, I strongly encourage them to step up and support the program. We want people to be engaged emotionally, engaged financially, and to come to our games. This is a perfect time for them start and they can do so by buying football season tickets, basketball season tickets, and making donations to the Blue and White fund. That should always be there in the discussion.
Thank you to Allen Greene for taking time out of his hectic day to speak with us