June 23, 2014
For two hours, John Nitardy moved steadily through the dimly-lit First State Bank conference room at the Coaches Caravan in Gainesville, pausing to press palms and answer questions.
It was a scene repeated throughout the spring across Metroplex, at caravan stops, luncheons and dinners, on campus and off. Just days into his new job as senior associate athletic director for development and executive director of the Mean Green Club, Nitardy was introducing himself to the Mean Green Nation.
"I put together a three-month plan and a six-month plan," Nitardy said, "to get to know people in the athletic department, the university and donors that have been involved in North Texas athletics, and to understand how we've done business."
While the introduction process continues, the way the North Texas Development does business is already changing.
"When this position came open, I was looking for someone with a wider breadth of experience in running our development area," athletic director Rick Villarreal said. "Having served at UMass and Penn State, John has seen both mid-sized and large operations that will help develop a stronger, more consistent process for communicating with and serving our fans."
As part of the change, the ticket office and Aspire, the sports and entertainment firm contracted by North Texas to help with sales and maximize revenue, will now operate under Nitardy's supervision; specific short- and long-term goals have been set for the growth of the Mean Green Club; and Nitardy's groups are moving to a master-calendar structure to bring synergy to various sections.
"We're going to create a more customer-friendly operation and provide even better service," Nitardy said. "We will be creating more urgency and operate more professionally, to improve the entire experience and create an even more efficient operation."
Nitardy comes to North Texas from the northeast, but has extensive ties to the south and southwest. Originally from Oswego, New York, he graduated from the University of South Carolina and received a Masters in sports administration from Ohio University, then began his career in marketing, promotions, and fundraising at the University of South Alabama, where he worked for six years.
His next stop was the University of Massachusetts, where he established the UMass Athletic Fund, which grew to raise over $1.3 million annually in his tenure. After three years at West Virginia as senior director of major gifts, he went to work at Penn State, running the 22,000-member Nittany Lion Club and overseeing a development team that raised over $51 million annually.
But the crushing weight of intense bureaucratic oversight, brought on by the Sandusky sex scandal, drove away a number of Penn State staff members, including Nitardy.
Nitardy, however, did not lose his interest in working in intercollegiate athletics.
"I took this job because I felt North Texas was a great opportunity with huge potential," he said.
To meet that potential, the development staff is initiating a number of changes, including:
• Coordinating ticket sales with collecting donations and the Mean Green Club.
• A master calendar to establish deadlines and coordinate schedules across the athletic department.
• Improving the management of membership benefits. "Not everyone can take advantage of game tickets. You want to create opportunities and incentives so we're not leaving anyone out."
• And in the near future, introducing electronic seat selection, allowing fans to relocate to seats that become available.
All of which are designed to support Nitardy's primary goal: to grow the base of North Texas fans, and, thereby, increase revenue to the athletic department.
One of Nitardy's first tasks is expanding the Mean Green Club's membership. Currently at approximately 1,000, Nitardy has set a goal of raising membership to over 1,500 by the end of August and to over 3,000 by next year.
"We've got to look at every constituent group out there. Faculty and staff, students, young alums, lettermen, senior citizens, general population and kids. We have to find ways to improve their experience at games. You can't just focus on one group, it's every one of those groups."
Indeed, Nitardy is stepping up the athletic department's outreach to North Texas faculty.
"The message is, we want you to be a part of this," he said.
"People say that you have to win to grow," Nitardy said, "but you also have to be in a position to take advantage of winning. I want to make sure we're in the best position to do that."