Blair Field gets set for major upgrades

Wayne Stickney, Long Beach State senior associate director for major gifts and research acquisition, discussed the major details regarding the enhancements to Blair Field and process of securing funds for major athletic projects.

According to Stickney, the university entered into a 50-year lease agreement in 2009 and the first renderings of a renovated Blair Field were produced in 2011. Stickney spoke with the Daily 49er in more detail about the project.

Question: What went into the decision to renovate Blair Field?

If you think of Blair Field, it’s the home of the Dirtbags; it’s an iconic ballpark. It’s over 50 years old. Phase one is we’re going to construct [new] batting cages. [We’ll] build a new outfield fence. We’ll leave the old one; it’s a perfectly good cylinder brick wall that we don’t need to pay to [demolish]. That’ll create some storage opportunities at some point. We’ll build two bullpens, and then build a pavilion. Phase one is approximately a $2.2 million project. We’ve got $1.2 million raised. [Former Dirtbags shortstop] Troy Tulowitzki gave us $1 million. Evan Longoria gave us $100 thousand, and then Jason Vargas gave us $100 thousand. Phase two, I can’t necessarily say what the price tag is, because I don’t have that information, but it would be the construction of an infield practice facility. Phase two would be the construction of the infield and the reconfiguration of the parking lot. Phase three, and I’ll preface this [by saying] any of these phases can change depending on donor intent, would be the construction of a two-story, state of the art clubhouse. We’ve got a storied tradition. We’ll have a Hall of Legends, a locker room, coach’s offices, meeting space and some entertaining space for some of our high-end donors down the road.

What are some of the biggest challenges?

I think our biggest challenge is the lack of awareness for our community and our alumni and friends. We’ve go to get out and create awareness, and through awareness and that educational campaign we start identifying leads. The challenge is how many leads can we line up of people where I can actually sit down and solicit someone to give us a gift. And the way gifts work is ok we need to build it so we need cash. But we can do a blended gift where we can name the ballpark. Right now it’s Blair Field; that’s a field. We can name the ballpark like, you know, you put a corporate name or an individual name in front of it. I don’t want to do that. But say we name it; it’s a $5 million naming opportunity. That could be $500 thousand a year for 10 years. This is how our minds work. We’re trying to look at what are the angles here. In the city of Long Beach, this is one of the premier sporting facilities for Long Beach city. I believe it has a population of 500 thousand people. It’s right in the heart of Long Beach. The branding that goes with that for a lead corporate partner or an individual, it can be pretty pervasive. I think once it gets named it becomes a legitimate facility where we can push.

So the plan is to rename the ballpark with a corporate name?

A: Corporate or individual. What’s fascinating is we’ll have 260 thousand alumni this year at LBSU. Another university out there, not necessarily similar institution, but one that sets the benchmark in terms of alumni engagement is Notre Dame. [Head football coach] Brian Kelly, when he recruits an athlete he says don’t think of this decision to come here based on the next four years; make that decision based on the next 40 [years]. And that’s about our alumni. I think for us people tend to dwell on our low alumni engagement and low alumni giving. We were established in 1949, and the way I see it is we have to make some investments in some of our HR; our staffing and developing. We need to get out and engage and eventually in the next 10-15 years we can turn this big machine around and become not just one of the most applied to universities in the country but one of the most impactful alumni groups in the country as well.

What role do you play in this process?

I’m the senior associate director for major gifts and research acquisition. Basically my responsibility is to build a community. People don’t just give money if they don’t have an emotional connection. I’m responsible for filling three buckets. The first is our annual fund, which is our Beach Athletic Club model. That’s basically funding student athlete scholarships and/or team specific enhancements where they’re paying for travel, paying for food, paying for uniforms, equipment, etc. Capital projects are something we just talked about. We have other projects that I work in trying to secure funding and other resources. Our endowment is $1.2 million, but the way we’re going to fill that bucket is not necessarily I come to you and say hey can you give me some money to start an endowment. We need money today for the first two. The third one is through legacy giving, where people give us a bequest. They basically help us by, maybe, they died and they’re helping us because part of their estate comes to us. That’s what I’m responsible for.

How much success have you had when you approach donors about giving money or gifts?

The rule of thumb is takes three to five years to close a major gift once you start working with someone. So I’ve been here a year. To say how much success, it’s hard to say in terms of here’s the numbers. I personally lead the university in what’s called personal visits. That’s a key metric for determining whether you’re going to be successful down the road is how many people you meet with every month. I had 55 last month, and the rest of my team, I have three other people in addition to myself that work on doing the same thing: personal visits. All their numbers are rising.

Who are these donors? What do they do?

If you think of an athletic department as the term stakeholders, we have dozens of stakeholder groups that are involved. Our donors come from all those different groups. We have volunteers that are manning stat crew tables; doing stats during games. Some of those people are donors. We asked one of those people last summer for half a million dollar gift, and it takes time to close something like that. Some of them are very successful business people. Some of them were educators for a number of years and made sound investments and maybe they’re leaving us $25 thousand when they pass away. It ranges in their backgrounds. Of course, the people that can give mega million dollars are typically those who have gone into investment banking or maybe have a big company. We have alumni all over the map who have been very successful.

When do you expect the renovations to be complete?

Probably a couple years after we get the money. Phase is to get the money by summer. We want to get the money and begin construction so we’re finished with phase one before next baseball season. But we still have to secure an additional $1 million to do that. The rest of the phases, say we got $17 million this month, I think it would take two years to do it all because there’s so much more going on.

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