One for the Money, Two for the Show
With the on-campus football stadium paid off in its first year, Tulane focuses its second year on improving the program.
Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson is still getting used to the compliments about his team’s football program. Excuse him for being bashful; he’s just not accustomed to receiving such accolades.
Last year Green Wave football returned to campus after 40 years of play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Alumni, students and friends of the program immediately took to the on-campus experience, complete with the pageantry of a traditional college-football environment lacking at the Dome.
It’s an amazing story, considering that a decade ago the devastation following Hurricane Katrina brought dark days for Green Wave athletics, including the possibility of Tulane’s sports dropping from Division I to Division III or even disappearing altogether.
But instead of shutting down, Dickson believed the school should invest in athletics. His vision included the rise of an on-campus football stadium, which would transform Tulane’s entire athletic program.
He has been proved right from the outset.
The idea invigorated alumni and friends of the program. Tulane was able to raise nearly half the funding for the $50 million stadium project within a year after it was announced in 2011. When construction ran $20 million over budget — stadium namesake Richard Yulman, former Serta owner and Tulane Board member who gave $15 million toward the 30,000-seat stadium’s construction — issued the “Yulman Challenge” to raise the additional money. This month Dickon will announce it has already received pledges to pay the stadium in full.
“We’re very pleased to say the stadium campaign is complete,” he says.
That doesn’t mean Tulane’s athletic administration is resting on its laurels. This offseason Tulane made $1 million in stadium improvements, including moving the broadcast booth from the west side of the stadium to the east side behind Tulane’s bench, and adding new game clocks and ribbon video boards to the west side seats. In addition, AT&T added a $2 million system to improve Wi-Fi access inside the stadium. The school is also looking at additional revenue from naming rights options for the plaza at the stadium’s main gate, the scoreboard and the stadium’s multipurpose room.
Dickson’s vision of the impact an on-campus stadium could have on the athletic program is coming to fruition. Now recruits and their families are taking note.
“We’ve got one commitment who said he was overwhelmed by Yulman Stadium,” Dickson says. “Think about that! To see that as a headline during recruiting, to see a kid come out, on his own, and say that – that’s exactly what we wanted. We had another recruit visit here who had seen Baylor, Oklahoma State and Arkansas, and he and his family remarked about our facilities. That’s not something that was said to me much in my first 12, 13 years here.”
Dickon says he’s witnessed firsthand the buzz and excitement created by the stadium. “It’s not Texas, LSU or Nebraska, but there’s an energy that we weren’t able to provide before,” he says. “It’s helping not just football, but in recruiting for other sports as well. There’s an atmosphere and environment that provides more of a traditional college experience. We’ve been playing off-Broadway, and now we’re not necessarily at the heart and center of Broadway, but we’re on the boulevard,” he says. “We’re in the mix; that’s all you can ask for.”
I want my Wave TV
From 2004-2014, 24 Tulane games were nationally televised, roughly 2.5 broadcasts a year. After joining the American Athletic Conference last September, Green Wave teams had 69 national broadcasts in the following seven months.
As Hollywood South, New Orleans is no stranger to the famous, but Tulane Football is developing a reputation as a home for celebrity progeny. Nick Montana, son of four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Montana, played for the Green Wave from 2013-14. Junior linebacker Nico Marley is reggae legend Bob Marley’s grandson. Now, Willow Street whispers say actor Liam Neeson’s son, Daniel, intends to walk on as a kicker this spring.
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.