State of the Club
- Alumni Weekend was great; let's make that our New Standard.
- Autonomy is important to our long-term health, but so are relationships with Football, Athletics, and VAF. We've been building those bridges this summer.
- Our traditional post-game parties in Bryant Hall were in need of a makeover, so we're experimenting with an alternative for W&M, FSU, and ODU. Select alums will be hosting pre-game tailgates at parking spots around the stadium.
- Alums across the country have been stepping forward to undertake a variety of initiatives.
- Your support and feedback are both valued and needed.
It was great to see such a large turnout at Alumni Weekend back in the spring. Though the memorial service for Coach Welsh was an obvious draw for many of us, it nevertheless begged the question: "Why can't this be the norm?" Since then, our group has been pondering and working to turn that question into more of a reality. We don't believe that you came back for the crab dip at the Friday night cocktail party, or simply to scout out the current team at the Spring Game. Rather, we think it's because of the relationships. You. We. Us.
Granted, the update below is somewhat lengthy, which isn't our norm. In light of various conversations and developments over the past several months, we felt it important to share information and keep folks in the loop. Sacrificing perfect prose for efficiency, here's the bulleted version of "The State of the Club":
WHO WE ARE
- At its core, the Club has always been managed by a handful of well-intentioned volunteers. There are no perks or kickbacks, no compensation. We're taking our turn to carry the torch because this group and its future are meaningful to us, and, we know, to so many of you.
- Despite having what we believe to be a good game plan, we know that we won't always make the right calls, nor can this group be everything to everyone. We also know that the leadership will eventually change hands, as it should for the long-term health and sustainability.
- From its earliest roots, the Club has largely existed to bring together past generations and to honor the people and history of the Virginia Football Family. This manifest itself in things like game day tailgates, spring reunions, and alumni football games (yikes).
- As the program and time have evolved, so, too has the Club. We now find ourselves at an opportune time: the program is on the rise, new administrators--from the AD to the President--are focused on football, and ground has been broken on a host of new facilities. The iron is hot.
- It's our goal to contribute to this rising tide and not get left behind. As such, we're focused on crafting an infrastructure that can stand on its own over the course of time and change, regardless of who's blowing the whistle or who occupies the corner office. Coaching staffs will inevitably come and go, as will administrators and capital campaign projects. But, the thing that remains constant is us. Is it part of our mission to support the current staff and players? No question. Will seek to we offer what we can for the greater good of the Athletic Department and University? You bet. But, our main focus will always remain on us, and on nurturing the rich friendships, experiences, and networks that we've built over time. That mission won't change.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
- We've admittedly spun our wheels a bit in recent years trying to figure out the best path forward, but we believe that we're now on an encouraging trajectory. Sure, the trending success of the team the past two years helps, as does the newfound support and alignment of groups like Football, Athletics, and VAF, as outlined in the following section.
- But in taking a step back to survey the landscape, it seems that most of the momentum is due to folks recognizing the impact that the experiences and relationships gained thru their time in orange and blue continue to have on their lives. It's causing them to give thru annual dues, sure, but much more so, thru their time and engagement, laying worthwhile "bricks" on our Club's foundation.
- For instance, a handful of local alums have committed to providing breakfast for the entire staff each week this season. When applied thoughtfully and consistently, we believe that small acts like this provide a high "bang-for-buck" to those on the receiving end.
- An alum in North Carolina thought we ought to be doing more to honor the memory and contributions of deceased members of the Football Family. And so, unsolicited, he brought forth a proposal to do so.
- A group of alums throughout the state have rallied themselves to develop (finally!) a "hub and spoke" model to make better use of our vast professional networks, particularly with our younger alums.
- A Darden faculty member observed that many of their international students are at a disadvantage during the recruiting and interview process (and in social situations with fellow students) due to the lack familiarity with American football. He thus asked a local alum to give a "Football 101" primer to 80 incoming international students and their partners. Four other alums pitched in to help with a two-hour event held at the stadium.
- Additionally, alums are stepping forth to bolster the game day atmosphere, as mentioned below.
- Whereas things like that were often merely ideas in the past, or start-stop attempts at best, folks are now raising their hands to take ownership and make them go, and that's been wonderful to see. To really spur our Club forward, we'll continue to need more of that.
- Though we think it's best to maintain our operational and financial independence, the common saying "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" absolutely applies here. In this case, the "whole" includes Football, Athletics, and VAF. Over the past few months we've been working to build and/or strengthen bridges between those groups, and contribute to the rising tide that our program is poised to be for both Athletics and the University.
- Specifically, we've met with Gerry Capone, AD Jim Booz, and Lo Davis at VAF on repeated occasions. Make no mistake: football is the stated priority for each of them. We have no better ally than Gerry, who's seen and done it all during his decades with the program. Jim has returned for a second act at UVA, having served as our head of Compliance prior to his stint at Georgia with Carla Williams. He knows the University well, and has been tasked to "think about football 24/7." Lo is a '91 grad and former student-athlete who said "Football players need a dedicated point of contact within VAF, and I'll be that guy."
- Again, the iron has never been hotter in terms of the focus and support around the program and our group, and we've appreciated the opportunity to nurture these particular relationships through those three men.
GAME DAYS AT SCOTT STADIUM
For at least the first three games, we are changing up our game day routine. Whereas historically the Club has hosted a post-game event in Bryant Hall, we are instead going to sponsor a series of pre-game tailgates around the stadium, hosted by football alums who are opening up their personal tailgates to the UVA Football Alumni Family. We've begun to fill those slots, and the response has been encouraging.
More details will be provided next week, but here's how we came to that decision:
- As we began planning for last season, we reviewed 5+ years of data around our post-game Bryant Hall events. In doing so it was very clear that attendance was continuing to decline, so we sought to figure out why.
- There was no smoking gun single answer, but there seemed to be correlation between things like game time, end time, outcome, record-to-date, and opponent. The later the kickoff, the lighter the attendance. Same goes for a loss, a down year, and bad weather.
- And while we naturally wanted to gather more alums on game days, varying attendance was making it increasingly difficult to accurately predict costs (catering, staffing, etc.). Hosting a ~$1,000 event for 30 people isn’t good economics, nor is it sufficiently promoting the Club’s intended mission. Our dollars and reach needed to go further.
- So, last year we experimented w. a pre-game event to see what effect that might have. This posed a small logistical hurdle in that the coaching staff had been using Bryant Hall to host recruits. Given changes to NCAA rules that now allow alumni and recruits to mingle on-campus, we agreed to try a joint event to see if that might (a) boost attendance, and (b) aid recruiting.
- Results were varied, but we agreed last fall that the existing post-game format wasn't sustainable at its current pace.
This brings us to the present...
- We recently surveyed alums from multiple generations. A similar shared opinion emerged that the post-game format wasn’t working as-is, and that we needed a new experience to get behind on game days. Some chalked this up to the atmosphere (light attendance, low energy), while others cited logistics (too late for kids, need to hit the road, etc.). Metaphorically, we’d been running King Rt. 42 Lead for a long time.
- And so, at least for the first three home games, we're going to try a new format, capitalizing on the traits that characterize a pre-game atmosphere: you've already made your way near the stadium, you're bouncing between tailgates, spirits are high, and you have nowhere else to be.
- Why the first three home games? Logistically, William & Mary and FSU are both night games, so that was an easy call. Remember: late kickoffs have meant low post-game attendance. Additionally, William & Mary is on a Friday, so that may effect folks' normal routines. To give this experiment a fair shake and so you could have some consistency before we go on the road for two weeks, adding the ODU game (Saturday, time TBD, additional data point) seemed like a wise move.
- Yes, this means that for now, there's no single game-day destination for alums. We've had conversations with Gerry Capone, Jim Booz, and Lo Davis about a longer-term plan for the Club on game days. But to start, we're working with What and Who we have on-hand.
- Lastly, we're very much committed to maintaining our "alumni locker room" in Bryant Hall, making it a hospitable destination on game days, and carrying on the history and traditions of the old stadium, and of the old guard who formed the first iterations of an "alumni club." We're still trying to figure this out, and any input would be appreciated, but please know that we're not going to abandon that space and let it become a storage closet.
MEMBERSHIP + FINANCES
- A big thanks to those of you who’ve renewed your membership, or joined for the first time! Everything we take in thru annual dues and donations goes back into the Club's activities throughout the year, and we absolutely wouldn't be able to function without that sort of commitment and generosity.
- We're structured similarly to, say, a church in that the bulk of our finances come in waves, and we do our best to hold on and operate within our means until the next wave. Whereas a church may raise the majority of its annual budget at year-end, ours typically occurs in the weeks leading up to the season (i.e. now! :).
- Your gifts represent a commitment to the cause; here's a snapshot of how those funds are being spent throughout the year. We're doing our best to put dollars, hands, and momentum to good use.
So that's what been happening behind the scenes, and a look at where we are now. As a group that was founded "of the people, by the people, for the people," we very much welcome your support, participation, and feedback, as we simply couldn't operate without any of those.
Here's to a great season, and to a stronger future together. Wahoowa.