LIVE: With Jason Butikofer
Jason Butikofer stopped by "Gold and Black LIVE" on Jan. 10. Here is an excerpt from the interview from the third-year deputy athletics director.
GoldandBlack.com: What are you most proud of in your three years here?
Jason Butikofer: I think there’s a lot. I love coming into an environment that I viewed as opportunistic. I think we have such a great fan base and such a great culture around Purdue Athletics. There have been lean years on the football field and the basketball program has been consistent, but not broken through like we did last year. I think as you look to try and build momentum and elevate the brand nationally, that’s a big one for me.
I hear pretty consistently from our external constituents that our social media and creative services and just how we’ve been a little more chest out, pitch forward in our approach. I think people have noticed us nationally in that regard.
Then when you look at some of our day-to-day elements, we’re probably a week or two weeks away from selling out Mackey Arena on a season basis. Every single game, for the first time since 1998 or 1999 that that has happened. We had a great product and I think we’re just doing some of the right things. We’re playing well on the floor. Last year we made a lot of hay and this year has been a little bit up and down. To harness that fan support and fill that arena and continue to make Mackey Arena the best place in the nation.
Then you look at that other side of the coin: primarily football. 58 percent attendance increase in Ross-Ade since 2016. There’s been a 93 percent increase in football ticket revenue during that period of time. In a national landscape where numbers are declining everywhere and even some of the big powerhouse programs, to watch our people latch on to this football program. We’re going to put our chest out and when we (do things like) beat Ohio State (in 2018), when we do certain things and reach certain milestones and certain growth opportunities that we’re going to celebrate it. I think people have latched on to that and gotten excited about the Purdue brand.
GoldandBlack.com: Why do you think attendance (across the country) has been such a challenge at football games?
Butikofer: I think we’re dealing with a much more distracted society. There’s a lot of entertainment options. When I was at Arizona State in the athletic department in a metropolitan environment, we used to talk about the competition with the Coyotes and the competition with the Diamondbacks. The entertainment dollar was what we always talked about.
In my mind, it’s not even entertainment dollar anymore that you’re trying to stretch. People have options in Indianapolis and Chicago. I think it’s more general distraction. The ability to sit in front of your TV and have 75 inches of screen in front of you of HD quality where the beer is a foot away, and you’ve got your smart phone and four other devices sitting right in front of you is attractive to folks. I think theseyounger generations are very distracted. With the 21 year olds it’s a different deal. I’ve been really proud of our students. Basketball speaks for itself and I think it will always be that way. With football, to have 12,000-14,000 students at every single game… especially with non-conference opponents, I almost can bet there’s going to be a phone call afterwards from somebody on their staff saying “Hey, our AD said your student crowd was unbelievable at football, how do you get them all there and what are you doing to incentivize or entice them? There’s some things I think we have done creatively and part of it is putting a great brand of football out there, but part of it speaks to our students and the culture of campus and the connected nature of it all. That’s exciting and it’s fun to be in a place like that. We’ve had Missouri make that phone call twice to us and be like “Explain this to us again.” So it’s been fun.
GoldandBlack.com: I think it’s (at Purdue) becoming an environment where students feel like they need to be.
Butikofer: Exactly. I think you want to create an environment that the students can latch onto. Some of that is pregame, a lot of that is endgame. You’re really trying to thread the needle on the tradition of the Purdue band and what that stands for. Our older demographics (want certain things) with the students wanting a DJ and techno music. You’re trying to thread the needle and I think creating an experience for a broad base of your fans, and then communicating that through all these different mediums to get them excited.
If you’re 60 years old, what do you want to see? That’s why we went with Forge (available to JPC members) as that printed publication to make sure the people on social media can hear the story. You’re 20- and 30-somethings are watching what you do from a video content standpoint on Instagram or Twitter.
So it’s your fan experience and how you’re getting people excited to get them there. It’s such a diversified landscape that you’re trying to thread the needle on a lot of things.
GoldandBlack.com: Is that one of the goals of the Ross-Ade renovation?
Butikofer: It is. You have to make it a social event. You need to have different set of experiences for different demographics. I think one of goals of this Ross-Ade Stadium renovation is to birth a new product. Right now we have suites and club seats in the Ross-Ade Pavilion, and in some instances that’s a great solution for certain segments, both depending on your financial demographic and your age demographic creates your ability to enjoy those seats.
Right now in rough estimates to sit at the 50-yard line in the lower level at Ross-Ade is about $450. It is about $1500-$1600 to sit in the outdoor club. So to me, you have this huge gap of almost $1000 between your best seat in the lower level, and your worst seat in the premium area. You think about individuals in my age bracket (Butikofer is 42) and maybe the 30-somethings and those who are in their early 50s, (about) creating something in that $750 or $850 range, something that’s a little more flexible. (Maybe) It’s a patio or it’s a game connected space. It’s maybe something where your spouse can socialize with her friends. The spouse can still be connected to the game but not locked into a 12 inch seat.
Diversity of product is huge for us with this project so that we can speak to a larger demographic. I think it’s been very well known that we’ve went hard after Indianapolis. To be quite honest, our goal with this (stadium) project is to differentiate ourselves from the Pacers and the Colts, from others in that footprint. I think we can effectively do that through this project.
We already diversify ourselves in the standpoint that we have plenty of space, we have tailgating. I love Lucas Oil Stadium, but it’s concrete everywhere. What if I have kids? I probably wouldn’t let them get two feet away from me. Whereas here, I see it every Saturday at Ross-Ade. There’s kids throwing the football and it’s like, where are their parents? That’s the beautiful thing about college football in West Lafayette.
GoldandBlack.com: Tell us about the new south end video board and the timetable.
Butikofer: We started tearing the thing down two days after the last football game. There’s a methodology to that because there is a long runway here with the gold ticket (finished date) at about the first week of August.
The new board is not quite four-and-a-half times the size of the current board. It’s going to be mammoth and stretch across that entire end zone. It’s also going to move forward 30 feet. It’s going to feel right on top of folks.
I think the north end zone video ribbon was a great addition. We got a lot of feedback. To me, this is that times 20. We were at a crossroads. It was a necessity for us to do something.
(During last season) We used to get emails saying “From an energy standpoint, you guys should turn off your video board at night.” How do we respond to this email because if we turn it off, we don’t know if it’s going to come back on. We appreciate the fact that we’re trying to conserve energy, but you were just always walking on egg shells with the previous board. As you talk about getting people to get off their coach and come out and experience football, these are the type of amenities and enclosed environment from a fan experience standpoint that is just a necessity at this point in time.
GoldandBlack.com: What is the one biggest question or problem facing college athletics across the board?
Buitikofer: I think the name image and likeness is at the forefront right now and is something that is being addressed. I know there’s like 16 or 15 states currently with legislation in the works. There’s no way in my mind it doesn’t become a federal issue and raise to that level because what I do know is that we can’t operate off of 50 different sets of rules.
I think there is so much value in the collegiate model and people value college athletics nationally at such a level that I don’t think anybody is trying to ruin competitiveness and things of that nature. So to me, it automatically rises up to the federal level. It’s starting to be those type of conversations.
In general terms, to me, the biggest concern beyond that is that the NCAA is everyone’s favorite target. It feels like there’s lawyers circling that place trying to find a chink in the armor that they can pursue. Some of it is legit.
There are legitimate things going on right now that are spurring change, but I think it’s change for the better. I think we also can’t forget about what is good about college athletics, the experience we’re providing. I’ve been saying this for five or six years now, somewhere in the conversation it has gotten lost as to what we actually do to provide an unbelievable experience and education, sharpening their (student-athletes) skills to enter a successful life from both a family and professional standpoint.
It’s amazing to have been involved in college athletics since 1996 and to see in my time at Iowa, Arizona State, Minnesota, Army the lives that have been impacted. Some of my roommates that I lived with at Iowa in the basketball program (I think about the impact of athletics on their lives). Knowing what they’re doing, the lives they’re leading and how differently that could have been without that opportunity is something I’m passionate about and is a reason I’m doing what I’m doing today, a very big reason.
But I think that’s been lost somewhere and everybody is out to try to get a bigger chink in the armor. Everyone is kind of attacking the NCAA. So that’s bothersome and it’s worrisome. But there are some legitimate things as well. I just hope that people understand that there’s a model here that has value in it. We need to be very thoughtful and very careful about the changes we make and how we move forward. I’m a huge advocate for student athletes, their welfare and the experience provided. That goes without saying. I feel like my colleagues in this industry, there’s a huge group that are right there with me. We have to walk through this and make sure that we get it right.
GoldandBlack.com: You’ve just hired Peyton Stovall. He has a huge potential to make a big difference.
Butikofer: We think it was as a really good hire. A lot of people watching know him and he’s been such a great pillar of this community. He’s really a model for what you want of the student-athlete experience. He’s lived it, he had bigger on court aspirations that maybe didn’t come to fruition (due to injury). Yet, he’s found a great pathway for himself and he has a great family. He’s lived it.
To be able to transfer that: His passion and his energy and his experience to Purdue and Purdue Athletics is a great situation for us. We have to continually invest in the development of the young men and women that comprise our athletic department.
I used say this all of the time to our student-athletes at Southern Utah (where Butikofer serves as AD before coming to Purdue), you have an ability to (strongly) step into any (job) interview (setting. You’re into winning. You’re a competitor, you’ve been in an environment that has allowed you to deal with adversity and work as a team, to do all of these things that maybe somebody who is just going to class everyday doesn’t get to hone all of those skills or doesn’t get exposed to some of that. When you step into that interview, you should be kicking the tail of the person that is on the other side of that fence because a student-athlete experience and what you went through just makes you a better candidate. I think rightfully so, corporations and business understand that. They see that. They want this type of talent. I think our ability to make sure that we are creating the best bridge possible to take advantage of that is critical.
That’s really where Peyton Stovall comes in.
GoldandBlack.com: You serve as the sport administrator for men's basketball and football. When you look at Matt Painter, what do you see in terms of what he brings to the table?
Butikofer: He’s so seasoned. You look at Painter and he’s what, 48 or 49? He just kind of has that approach that makes you feel like he’s well beyond those years. Obviously he’s been road tested in the Big Ten as a head coach here for 15 years. You look at the echelon of big names, Coach K and Roy Williams, you keep going down that list, that group is about to exit stage left and retire. Matt is that next echelon of guy in my mind. I’ve been around a lot of college coaches and I’ve been around a lot of programs. The coaching maturity that he has at his age is significant.
I think the most impressive thing is the architecture behind the culture, and the architecture behind how he’s very intentional about doing everything is exceptional. I haven’t seen it before. He sticks true to his guns. You kind of hear that cliché of “it’s a process.” Everything’s a process. A lot of coaches throw that around, and I really see that here.
You leave the Crossroads Classic at with a 7-5 record, or whatever and there’s a calmness associated with that for me personally because you know he knows what he’s doing. He knows that there’s a methodology to where we’re trying to get. There’s a ton of parity in this league right now so it’s going to be an interesting ride.
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