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Michigan Athletics is a global brand that draws in more than 100,000 people and generates around $15 million in economic impact every home football game. David A. Brandon has been the leader of this major economic driver since March 2010.

In his conversation with Donna Doleman, VP Marketing, Communications and Talent, Dave discusses his role within the University athletic department, the history and relationship between the University and Ann Arbor SPARK, and how the athletic department serves as an economic driver of the Ann Arbor region.


Donna Doleman: You gained an extensive amount of experience leading large, multinational corporations. You even led Domino’s to the largest IPO in restaurant history. Given this background in the private sector, how do you feel about University Athletics as a business?  Can you tell us a little bit about Athletics as a business model?

Dave Brandon:  The business model is a business model.  We have revenues.  We need them.  We have to control our costs.  It’s about a $135 million business in terms of our revenues.  We’re responsible for being self-supporting, so we do not receive any funding from the University, the general fund, nor do we get any appropriations from the legislature of the great state of Michigan.  We have to raise whatever money we need to serve our purposes.  That is to provide facilities, coaching talent, and strength and conditioning support, academic support, health and wellness support for all of our student athletes. We spend virtually all of that $135 million a year because we are a not-for-profit axillary unit of the University.  We put all of those resources back in creating the best possible experience we can for those student athletes.

Donna: Athletics at the University of Michigan are an economic driver; you just mentioned the $135 million.  Besides the obvious well-documented impact of the home football games, how else does the University of Michigan Athletics help to boost the Ann Arbor economy?

Dave:  We employ 310 people full time.  We employ several hundred more on a part time basis to help us with our event management.  As you can tell by moving around the athletic campus, we’ve got cranes everywhere.  We spent $226 million in capital on the renovation and expansion of Michigan Stadium. We currently have plans to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of another quarter of a billion dollars over the next five to 10 years on facility construction and upgrades.  So, we’re contributors in terms of being a significant employer.  We’re contributors in terms of the investment that we make in infrastructure.

Then we host these events; we throw these little parties for 115,000 people. It’s been well documented that every home football game means somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million of economic impact in the Ann Arbor area.  And then we put 10,000 in Crisler Center for Men’s basketball games.  We host crowds of tens of thousands of more for all of our other sports.  We have 29 sports in total that are constantly competing on campus.  We’re flying in teams and fans from other places to enjoy those competitions and they stay in hotels and they go to restaurants and they use transportation.  We believe that all of that benefits the city of Ann Arbor.  Occasionally, we’ll do something special. This New Year’s Day, we’re scheduled to be the host site for the Winter Classic, where the NHL intends to fill our stadium with 115,000 people who are rabid hockey fans on New Years Day.  So, we’ll be bringing tens of thousands of people from outside the area to celebrate the New Year and be a part of a very, very large sporting event on our campus.  All of those dollars that are spent on all of that activity, to my way of thinking, benefits all of the folks who care about economic development in the Ann Arbor area.

Donna:  You’re right.  That is significant.  You know, as I listen to you, it’s not just a local impact that’s so critical.  It’s also the global impact.  As a marketer, the brand is global.  So, can you just talk about the brand, your goals for the brand and what you want to do with it?

Dave:  Well the block M is a brand.  Some people don’t like to hear it that way, but it is.  It’s very much a brand and you build equity in a brand.  Brands stand for something.  Our job is to make sure that the block M stands for the values, principles and success that we really want to be attributed to our University, not just our athletic programs. It’s very much a global brand. I know Domino’s is in 69 countries around the world.  I didn’t get to all of them, but I traveled to a lot of them.  I never made a trip to any country in the world where I didn’t see evidence of the University of Michigan.  Somebody’s wearing a Michigan hat, a Michigan jersey.

Dave Brandon also has advice for young jobseekers coming out of local universities & colleges. This information and more can be found in the rest of Dave Brandon’s podcast, available for listening on SPARK’s website.


Donna Doleman and Dave Brandon sit down for the CEO podcast in Dave's office.