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Setting the Bar at Towson University

Division 1 collegiate athletics are hitting the big leagues, catching up to their professional counterparts in viewership, media coverage, and venue quality. There are a few fundamental features that define an elite Division 1 program: top draft picks, experienced coaching, and a loyal, devoted fanbase. However, these facets of the Division 1 experience are hardly ever organic. Rather, to continuously cultivate these vital characteristics requires considerable effort and expenditure. One often overlooked factor in driving the ongoing success of big college sports programs is an administration’s investment in a versatile, state-of-the-art arena that suits a diversity of needs.

Funding construction of a new arena can be a recognition of an already accomplished team or an effective catalyst for helping a program transcend into the elite tier of top collegiate teams—while adding a core landmark to campus that helps establish a sense of school identity and spirit. Schools aiming to raise their profile and caliber should consider the benefits a new arena can have on overall attraction and retention of athletes and students, alike. Through capital improvements to sports facilities that feature solid programming and flexible, cutting-edge design, Division 1 schools can support the kinds of athletics programs that put schools on the map—keeping students and alumni bases engaged year over year to meaningfully boost reputation and revenues.

Our new SECU Arena at Towson University is an especially successful example of how adding a modern facility can enhance not only the experience of spectators, but also provide immediate, significant growth for the sports program and the university. The SECU arena has been open for only a year, but since the opening Towson has seen considerable lift in revenue, attendance, and ticket sales:

• Total student ticket sales nearly tripled, from 5,226 to 15,002 tickets sold, increasing revenues for the athletics department by 50 percent.

• For men’s basketball alone, student attendance increased by 194 percent from last season and ticket sales jumped by 209 percent.

Towson University Athletic Director, Tim Leonard, attributes the incredible growth in fan following to the 2013 opening of the SECU Arena and men’s basketball team’s strong performance, with its second place finish in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Just last week, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Baltimore awarded Sasaki an Honorable Mention for the design of Towson’s SECU Arena, a great industry recognition of the quality of the design. This recognition of design quality is an affirmation of the importance design plays in the cultivation of identity and spirit in campus architecture. “It has a bold, recognizable expression that gives it a singular identity on campus but still feels like a part of Towson,” says principal Bill Massey, discussing the design for SECU Arena. The combination of impressive performance metrics on revenue and attendance, plus a striking and thoughtful design paves the way for attracting new students to the university, drawing higher caliber student athletes, and generating school pride within the community that keeps students active and engaged during their four years on campus and beyond.

The Towson University SECU Arena stands as a benchmark case for universities to consider as they similarly look to break into top-tier collegiate sports. It strikes a balance between design and functionality, creating a space that’s appealing to a diversity of audiences. The investment in a new multi-use arena is already paying dividends, providing new revenue streams for Towson through rental of the facility to external parties hosting concerts, speaking engagements, and performances in one of the few mid-sized multi-use venues in the area. The arena is today a campus community destination that serves the university, athletes, students, and broader community in a great variety of ways—making an immense impact that, in many ways, goes beyond measure.

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