Chisholm’s challenge

When Michael “Torre” Chisholm was hired as Portland State’s new athletic director, he was well aware that, with the challenges facing him, the job wasn’t going to be a walk in the South Park Blocks.

When Michael “Torre” Chisholm was hired as Portland State’s new athletic director, he was well aware that, with the challenges facing him, the job wasn’t going to be a walk in the South Park Blocks.

The new athletic director says he has a variety of methods to cultivate hype and interest around Vikings athletics and overcome many challenges the athletic department faces. A stout six-footer, Chisholm, 37, was an assistant volleyball coach at the University of California, Santa Barbara, before his days as an administrator.

“I thought he was the best person for the job,” said PSU President Daniel Bernstine. “I think he had a good balance of understanding the challenges of running a Division I program, but also the need to be a part of the external operations of the university.”

Chisholm plans to heighten the awareness of Portland State athletics with both grassroots and branding efforts, bolster his external relations staff and launch a student group that actively participates in sporting events on campus.

Portland State athletics often lacks interest from a primarily apathetic student body. Last season, Viking teams drew as little as one-fifth the attendance at home compared to their draw on the road. However, interim Athletic Director Teri Mariani recently made waves by inking a deal to bring in former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville to lead the Viking football squad.

“Jerry’s hire has done two things,” Mariani said. “First, it has brought excitement to Portland State and awareness to not only athletics, but Portland State itself out in the community and across the state. Secondly, many people have called us to purchase season tickets and suites and give donations to the Viking Athletic Fund.”

The acquisition of Glanville has opened many business sector doors for Portland State. Companies that the athletic department has been unsuccessfully courting for more than a year are suddenly contacting the university to inquire about potential business endeavors.

Aside from propelling Portland State into the public eye, Glanville’s most significant impact has been at the box office, where he has increased season ticket sales 60 percent, from 1,000 last year to 1,600 as of May 1.

According to box office coordinator Deb Scott, the ticket revenue for the month of April has averaged approximately $40,000 over the past 10 years; however, this April the box office took in $90,000. Scott attributed the steep spike to Glanville’s arrival.

Populating the Stott Center for basketball and volleyball contests, and PGE Park for football games was a definite issue for Viking athletics this past year. The volleyball team’s average attendance was 352 at home and 646 away. The women’s basketball team drew an average of 378 at home and 1,381 on the road. And men’s basketball averaged 727 fans at the Stott Center and 3,845 when it was the visiting squad.

“I knew we are a commuter school and only have around 3,000 students living on campus,” Ken Bone, men’s head basketball coach, said. “I guess for those students volleyball, basketball, football, or whichever sport just isn’t their thing. It doesn’t interest them. Sports are not why they are at Portland State.”

With an urban campus, Chisholm realizes athletic attendance hinges on drawing both students and community members. His plan for attracting community members involves establishing a personal connection between them and the athletic department staff.

“With the community, part of it is getting out and creating a personal connection, which is part of what will drive them out to games,” said Chisholm. “A goal for me is that people in the city of Portland feel like they know someone in the athletic department. We’re going to make Portland State athletics the personal athletic program.”

With the hype Glanville’s hire has created, Chisholm wants to retain those he refers to as “lookie Lou fans.” This breed of fan attends the first couple of football games simply to catch a glimpse of the transformation at Portland State. He plans to entice them with a quality product on the field and an all-around entertaining environment, emphasizing the need to make game day an event, complete with engaging pre-game activities and supreme halftime entertainment.

“We also need to be really good at capturing fans’ contact information,” Chisholm said. “So when someone walks up to the window to purchase a ticket, we know how to get a hold of them to entice them to come back to that second or third game, and the next year get them to come back as season ticket holders.”

The other side of the coin that represents the Portland State fan base is, of course, the students. Chisholm believes a mixture of grassroots and promotional efforts should create a spike in student attendance and heightened interest in Viking athletic programs.

“I need to sit down with student leaders to figure out what excites students. I really want to find out how we can re-energize the student group called The Horde,” Chisholm said.

The Horde, an erstwhile fan club of excitable students who cheered and screamed at Portland State sporting events, gives Chisholm a foundation for a potential student group. But, Chisholm aspires to reinstate and completely revamp the group with the lure of freebies, hoping to invigorate The Horde with 2,000 students as early as next season.

“We need to create some incentive-based programs,” Chisholm said. “I hate saying this, but college students always love free stuff. At the games, we can give out shirts and vouchers for food places afterwards.”

Besides providing fans with handouts at games, Chisholm wants to create additional enthusiasm with some unprecedented methods on the Portland State campus.

“A couple of schools do this, and it makes sense when your mascot is a horde-so, if we’re talking basketball, let’s find a place on campus where all the students going to the game get together,” Chisholm said. “Then at a designated time, we run–literally like a horde–to the gym. And, heck, let’s get a Viking horn so someone can be tooting it while we run through campus to make it more of an interactive, engaging experience.”

Chisholm said he believes that gathering e-mail addresses of The Horde members will be vital to keeping student fans in the athletic loop.

Along the same lines, another challenge Chisholm faces is having only a $24,500 marketing budget to raise awareness about Viking athletics. Chisholm said his understanding is that amount could “probably buy you about four ads in The Oregonian.”

“The truth is we need to carve a little bit of a marketing budget. But, there is never going to be enough of a budget to permeate the market with media advertising. That means the most effective means, at least in the short term, is to make it a grassroots effort and personal experience,” Chisholm said.

Having spent 35 years serving in various positions at Portland State, ranging from student athlete to assistant volleyball coach to interim athletic director, Mariani has witnessed the financial instability of the athletic department as well as the entire university.

“The reason for the financial bind we feel is the same across campus. Until this state really commits to education at all levels–and higher education is part of it, because I don’t think they are looking at higher education seriously and enough. That’s not an athletics problem, that’s a Portland State problem,” Mariani said.

The athletic department’s budget currently rests at just under $9 million for expenses. Bernstine expects the new athletic director to manage the program as well as solidify additional revenue for the athletic department.

Since assuming the athletic director position May 1, Chisholm has already filled a few vacancies. Just 24 hours after settling into his Sixth Avenue office, Chisholm named Dennis Ferguson director of new business development. Chisholm also hired Zack Wallace as associate athletic director of development May 8.

“I think he understands the role of athletic director,” Bernstine said. “He is going to be out doing a lot to market our program and also increase revenues from ticket sales, but also donations from supporters. Generating revenue is probably going to be a major challenge he will experience.”