October 9, 2017
Executive Profile

UConn AD Benedict in search of fans, facilities, revenues

HBJ Photo | John Stearns
HBJ Photo | John Stearns
David Benedict, who became UConn's athletic director in spring 2016, said UConn has built a national sports brand, but the school and its fans must remain active in fighting for and protecting it.

VIEW: Executive Profile: David Benedict

David Benedict

Director of athletics, UConn.

Highest education: Master's degree in sports management, New Mexico Highlands University, 1996.

Executive insights: Be honest, treat people with respect and the way you would want to be treated. Also, don't do other people's jobs.

UConn Athletic Director David Benedict played linebacker at Southern Utah University in the 1990s and looks like he still could level a ball carrier, but today he tackles the issues of running an $82 million athletic program.

His challenging playbook: careful money management in a fiscally constrained state weighing big UConn cuts; a vested interest in the XL Center's future; new stadiums to build for soccer, baseball and softball; renovating or preferably replacing the Freitas Ice Forum on campus to Hockey East standards; and competing at the highest level in sports, particularly basketball, which has a national reputation, and football, seeking more wins and fans.

There's also the lingering question about UConn's conference future and whether it can get invited to a so-called Power Five group, and on-court expectations for the men's team after a disappointing season.

After 18 months in his first AD role and in his sixth athletic program, Benedict, 45, said he was ready to lead. He lists athletic directors he's worked for who became ADs at Duke and Ohio State, among others. Most recently, he worked for Jay Jacobs, AD at Auburn University, as chief operating officer. Before that he was deputy athletic director at Minnesota.

"I just have been mentored and been taught by some of the best people in this industry, so I felt like I was really prepared to have the opportunity, as most ADs say, 'To sit in the chair,' " Benedict said.

ADs are ultimately responsible for decisions, some of which aren't always popular with a program's myriad constituencies and ADs, like coaches, can get the ax. A new report that Jacobs' future could be in jeopardy over allegations hitting Auburn's basketball program and others, and Benedict's name surfacing as a possible replacement, received a "no comment" from Benedict in the Hartford Courant Oct. 2.

Benedict's been busy since joining UConn, notably replacing football coach Bob Diaco last December with former coach Randy Edsall. Benedict understands attendance is challenging based on recent years' performances.

But he also notes empty seats at men's and women's basketball games, saying fan support is vital to maintaining UConn's national brand. With the women, he wonders if some fans have grown complacent with winning. The men aren't that far removed from national titles, either, the latest in 2014.

The UConn men will do everything possible to return to the NCAA tournament in 2018 and make a run, and the women will compete for a national title, "but we all must be in it together and we all must be in it from day one and not just show up when it happens," Benedict said.

A national brand "can slip away very fast if you don't fight for it and protect it and so I'm going to do everything I can to maintain, protect and improve upon our history and tradition, but I can't do it alone," he said.

To help fill seats, he hired an outside firm, The Aspire Group, last year to assist with fan retention and ticket sales.

Meantime, the dated condition of XL Center, where UConn plays half its basketball games and all hockey, is a concern, in part because facilities are important to recruitment. A legislative proposal to eliminate the waiver of the XL admissions tax is worrisome, too, he said.

UConn reaps $3.5 million to $4 million annually in ticket sales at XL between basketball and hockey "and to have another 10 percent of our budget for those sales go out would be a significant expense," especially for a facility in XL's condition, he said.

Benedict has to manage money carefully, which is why moving a Nov. 18 football game from Rentschler Field to Fenway Park in Boston, a $1.1 million payday, was attractive, he said. UConn also scheduled a game at Clemson in 2021 for a $1.2 million payday.

"We're not always going to make a decision that is necessarily going to help us save money or generate more revenue, but we have to always be thinking in terms of, 'How is this going to impact our budget?' " Benedict said.

UConn's basketball exit fees from the Big East also will be ending in 2019, about $4 million over two years, but Benedict hopes a new TV deal for the American Athletic Conference will cover that loss.

Jason Butikofer, deputy athletic director at Purdue University, who reported to Benedict at Arizona State and considers him a mentor and friend, said Benedict has high integrity and business acumen.

"He's very balanced in his ability to have a high fiscal wherewithal as well as be able to hit the ground and sell tickets and develop relationships with donors that lead to increased financial support," Butikofer said. "He's a very balanced leader."

Asked about the chances of UConn returning to a Power Five conference, Benedict focuses on what UConn can control.

"We're a member of the American Athletic Conference and we need to do the absolute best job that we can to dominate and compete and win championships, both from a conference perspective and a national championship perspective in our present conference," he said.

Benedict is married to Lisa Zeis Benedict, a four-time All American in gymnastics at ASU (1983-1986) who won the national balance beam title in 1985 and floor exercise title in 1986. The couple has twin 15-year-old sons.

To watch a video interview, click here.

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