Earlier today Texas athletics director Steve Patterson was taken to task in a featured story profiling his interaction with the Texas community and supporters in rather unpleasant fashion. The report, published by Horns Digest, accused Patterson of deceiving Texas fans and ticket holders and having more loyalty to the Pac-12 and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott than his own school and conference. In response to the story, Patterson is now being compared to former Michigan athletics director Dave Brandon, as both are painted as administrators more concerned about maxing the incoming revenue before giving genuine care to the improvement of various programs. Things did not play out well for Brandon in Ann Arbor, and now Patterson is faced with brushing back an equally negative opinion.
As far as the football part of the story is concerned, there were some interesting tidbits of information revealed by the report. Although given credit for the hiring of head coach Charlie Strong after it seemed he was hired to show Mack Brown the door, Patterson is painted as a man lacking in support from football fans. Among the accusations, Patterson misled football season ticket holders regarding price increases by raising prices by more than three times the previously stated hike. Instead of a stated six percent increase, ticket prices spiked 21.5 percent following a 6-7 season. By comparison, Oklahoma did not raise ticket prices following an 8-5 season. One highly-ranked loyalty points member suggested that is a big reason why an estimated 10,000 season ticket holders did not renew their packages for Texas football. In addition, under Patterson’s leadership, Texas stopped including parking costs with season ticket packages. Parking can now cost between $100 and $195 for a season pass for each season ticket holder. The same donor also suggested Patterson’s relationship with the fan base is disingenuous. Any good, self-respecting AD will make it a point to have solid and positive relationships with the fans, and Patterson appears to be falling short in this area.
It should be said that the role of an athletics director is first and foremost to find ways to generate revenue for a sport, athletic department and university. There are many different ways to go about it, and sometimes it does seem college sports has taken on a more business approach in many areas. Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes it can be a bad thing. But if running a college athletics department is to be run as a business, the basic principle should still apply, and that is keeping the customers happy. Happy customers lead to more sales. In the case of Texas, sales come in season tickets, merchandise sales, alcohol sales (they’re doing that now) and advertising revenue. Texas has much to offer, and much to manage. Having an athletics director capable of handling those expectations is key, but if the customers fans are not happy then some things need to change before it is too late.
The Texas fanbase is not going anywhere. College sports fans do not abandon their favorite teams and schools so easily, but they can be extremely vocal in many ways and that’s not just on message boards. If Texas is suffering with ticket sales, it is now on Patterson to address it in a way that satisfies the fans and donors. Some fanbases are more open to new ideas and changes, while others will be more reluctant to embrace change. This is especially true if results are not being seen quickly. Given the information in the Horns Digest story, Patterson has a lot of people to sway in his favor, and who knows how much time he will have to do it.
You can read the full story and form your own opinions based on the information provided. Of course, there is always a second side to a story, and Patterson reportedly denied an opportunity to comment for the story. On College Basketball Talk, Rob Dauster went a little more in-depth with reaction to how the story focused on Patterson’s treatment of former men’s basketball head coach Rick Barnes. The report